How long do you think a patient with chest pain would sit in your waiting room before getting the attention and care they needed? Your answer is probably measured in minutes, as it should be. Certainly it would be less than 47 hours, which is how long one patient waited in the hallway of an ED before space was available in the cardiac unit of a Boston hospital. That clearly is an extreme case, and the patient was checked on periodically during that intolerable wait, but the authors of an opinion piece published recently on NPR’s website chose it to illustrate the severity of the overcrowding problems in many hospitals. They should know, too; the pair are residents in two different hospitals in Boston, and one of them treated the patient described above. It’s not just a local concern, either; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that most U.S. hospitals have boarded patients for more than 2 hours while waiting for a bed to open up. While the authors go on to point the finger at the diminishing number of hospitals, issues with reimbursements, and staffing challenges, it seems self-evident that one solution to overcrowding is to encourage more patients to seek care somewhere else if they’re not experiencing a life- or limb-threatening true emergency. This is the essential role urgent care should play as the dynamics of the healthcare marketplace continue to evolve. If your urgent care operation isn’t aligned with a healthcare system, work on getting the nearest hospital to refer nonemergent patients to your urgent care center. Forging a closer relationship will not only help your business, but will also ultimately foster better outcomes for patients who need care more quickly than they’re getting it currently.
NPR Opinion Piece Is a Cold Reminder: Too Many Patients Are Languishing in the ED