Emergency Departments publishing “Expected Wait Times”

Consumerism / By Daniel Sherer / September 14, 2021

Maybe you’ve seen the signs or advertisements and just ignored them.  They’re all around, on the side of the highway, the bottom of the screen during the evening news and DEFINITELY on the hospital’s website.

They’re a force for good, right?

Well... yes.  Good for the investors who own the hospital.

For you?

Not so much.

To be clear, the goal of reducing the amount of time a sick or injured person (in the biz, we call this “emergent”) wastes waiting to get life-saving treatment is noble. Every second wasted as you are bleeding to death is one you’ll never get back.  But is THAT what those “current wait time” signs are for?  No, most assuredly NOT.

Hospitals are measured on how quickly they take action.  CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid) have studied this and they focus on how long between when you come in and when you are either admitted or sent home.  Those times are very useful, but sometimes completely out of the hospital’s control.  If a bus-load of children are in an accident, it’s going to take longer to work thru 40 children than a quiet day with a single heart-attack.

So? What’s your problem man?

Why are you harping about billboards next to the freeway enticing people with how short the wait times are?  Shouldn’t you be THRILLED that if you’re having a heart attack that the wait time is only 9 minutes?

No, they make me mad and they should bother you too!

Let’s get one thing PERFECTLY CLEAR.

The “ED” (Emergency Department) at a hospital is for treating EMERGENCIES.  Duh, it’s right in the name.  It’s what you think of, I hope, when you think about an ED.  Someone is rushed-in, possibly on a gurney, fresh from an ambulance or an expectant mother who is hoping not to deliver her baby in the back of a car.  Somebody NEEDS HELP, and they need it RIGHT NOW!  You don't schedule your heart attack, or your ruptured appendix or the time your child will fall out of that tree.  And, you certainly shouldn’t wait at home or scour the internet looking for the ideal time to bring your loved one in to push that bone back into their arm.

But that’s NOT what those signs are for.

They are to plant a seed in the back of your mind.  To get you thinking “Gee, it’s only going to take 9 minutes before I can get a doctor to look at little Timmy’s ears and I really can’t miss any more work this week.”  (feel free to substitute your most recent NON-emergent issue here if you’re not a parent.).

Those signs are MARKETING.

They want you to ignore the more effective options (yes, cheaper, faster and with as good or better outcomes) in favor of the MOST EXPENSIVE choice.


The cost, just to be seen, in an ED can be many times more expensive than “Urgent Care” or your doctor.


The ED is staffed with people who can treat or stabilize very serious issues.  They should NEVER be your first choice for routine care.

The “gross charge” (just to be seen, but no procedures rendered) at the nearest hospital to me is currently $830!

If you don’t have or don’t use insurance, their “Cash Price” is $332 (on average).

If you have insurance, it will vary based on “plan” and your current deductible-status.  But it’s more than DOUBLE what it would cost to go to a nearby Urgent Care (which I have done). And it is literally INFINITY more than a call to your doctor’s office to just be told “The doctor will call in a prescription like the last time this happened.”

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