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Patients can now go online and see which of the region's emergency rooms has the shortest wait time
BY JIM HALL
Competition between the region's two hospital companies is more visible now, with Mary Washington Healthcare's decision to post the wait times at its three emergency rooms.
Patients can now go online and see the ER wait times at Mary Washington Hospital, Stafford Hospital and the Freestanding Emergency Department at Lee's Hill.
The information was first published Thursday on Mary Washington's website. The posting is similar to the one that the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center has been doing since June 2010, soon after it opened.
"This is something we have been thinking about and trying to plan for quite some time," said Debbie McInnis, spokeswoman for Mary Washington Healthcare.
With a few mouse clicks, ER patients can estimate how long they'll have to wait to see a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician's assistant. Both companies caution that the times are approximate and not guaranteed.
At 5 p.m. yesterday, for example, the posted wait times were:
Stafford Hospital--10 minutes.
Freestanding Emergency Department--22 minutes.
Mary Washington Hospital--22 minutes.
Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center--59 minutes.
The times are prominently displayed on the companies' websites. Spotsylvania also offers a text service and uses Internet ads and highway billboards.
Both companies use automated systems to calculate the times. Mary Washington measures the time from registration to first contact with a provider. Spotsylvania uses the time from arrival to first contact with a provider.
The posted times are a rolling, four-hour average, updated every 30 minutes in Mary Washington's case and every 15 minutes in Spotsylvania's case.
"For the patient, it's a service to know what they can expect when they arrive," said Jeanne Burkett, spokeswoman for Spotsylvania Regional.
The system is aimed at the patients who show up at the emergency room with relatively minor injuries or illnesses. Those with true emergencies, such as a bad bleed or a heart attack, are seen first.
Jim Hall: 540/374-5433
Anyone who follows the posted wait times for the emergency room at the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center knows that the times can vary widely.
Sometimes patients are seen by a provider in eight minutes. Other times they must wait an hour or more.
Yet some patterns can be gained from the stream of numbers. As a rule, waits are longer at the beginning of the week and later in the day.
"Sundays and Mondays are our busiest days, and 3 to 11 p.m. on any day is the busiest time," said Jeanne Burkett, spokeswoman for the hospital.