Money Matters in the ER

Waiting times longer in hospitals in poorer neighborhoods

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TUESDAY, Jan. 7, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Waiting times for patients are longer in financially strapped hospital emergency departments in poorer neighborhoods.

That's the claim of a study in the January issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Between Dec. 15, 2000, and May 15, 2001, researchers observed 1,798 randomly selected people in emergency departments in California hospitals. The people were monitored from their arrival at the emergency department to their first contact with a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant.

The study found the average waiting time for most emergency department patients is 56 minutes. However, 42 percent of the people in the study had to wait more than an hour.

The study found the waiting times were longer in poorer neighborhoods. For every $10,000 decline in per capita income within a zip code area, emergency department patients had to wait 10 minutes longer. That was true in both public and private hospitals.

The researchers hypothesize that these poorer communities have more people with no health insurance and complex medical problems who need more financial, administrative and social support.

The study also found that waiting times were shorter in emergency departments that had a greater ratio of triage nurses and doctors to patients.

More information

The American College of Emergency Physicians has more about emergency department waiting times.

SOURCE: American College of Emergency Physicians, news release, Jan. 2, 2003

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