ER wait times are concerning

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

The national average wait time for patients to see a doctor in the ER is approximately 28 minutes. Here in New York, the wait time is three minutes longer than the national average. However, for patients that are not considered urgent cases, the wait may be longer.

When checking into the ER, there is an expected delay for patients with injuries or conditions that are not obviously life-threatening. However, there are many conditions that may not present as critical that, if ignored even for a short time, can create big problems for the patient.

Many patients that present with stomachaches or headaches, nausea and vomiting or any other combination of common symptoms, may be put on hold in the ER. While their symptoms may seem relatively benign, the wait may actually allow the condition causing the symptoms to cause irreparable damage or even kill them. For example, patients complaining of stomachaches or jaw pain may actually be suffering a heart attack, yet their reported symptoms are not significant enough to warrant urgent care.

In 2011, the parents of a little girl went to their local ER with complaints that their child had a fever and was lethargic. The family was made to wait for five hours before receiving medical care. During the five hour wait, her condition got worse. It was discovered that she was suffering from a strep A infection, commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria. Due to the delay in medical care, the infection had advanced so far that surgeons had to amputate the toddler’s limbs.

Lengthy ER wait times have become such a problem that the public has demanded change. Special interest groups and government agencies alike have begun rating ER’s for their service and approximate wait times. Even the online review company Yelp has started including average wait times on medical facility Web pages. While this may be a start, it likely will not cure every ER wait time issue. For patients or family members that have suffered a loss or injury because of excessive ER wait times or delayed medical care, speaking to a medical malpractice attorney can help.

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