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Emergency Department Wait Times at Longest in a Decade

Study finds the most urgent cases least likely to be seen in target time

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 11 (HealthDay News) -- The number of patients who are not seen within target triage times at American hospital emergency departments has been steadily increasing for at least the last decade, according to a study published in the Nov. 9 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Leora I. Horowitz, M.D., and Elizabeth H. Bradley, Ph.D., of Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., and colleagues analyzed data from a random sample of 151,999 emergency department visits, representative of 539 million visits, from 1997 to 2006 to assess changes in treatment time versus target time by triage category, and also looked at the effect of race and ethnicity and insurance status.

There was a mean 0.8 percent reduction per year in the proportion of patients who were seen within triage target times, including a 2.3 percent per year decline for emergent patients and 0.7 percent per year for semi-urgent patients, the researchers found. By 2006, the odds of being seen on time were 30 percent lower than in 1997.

"Although African-American, Hispanic, and uninsured patients were less likely than white or privately insured patients to be seen on time in any given year, all patients suffered similarly from a decreased likelihood of being seen on time during the study period," the authors write. "Interventions for reducing wait times are urgently needed."

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