How Long Are Patients Willing to Wait in Line Before Leaving

I have always said it that waiting in line to receive a service is one of the most unnerving things. Emergency rooms are not any different. People waiting in line to receive a service tend to grow impatient sometimes and when the frustrations overwhelm their patience levels, they simply leave even without being seen. We sought to find out why it is that people are willing to leave emergency rooms without being seen. Here is a short report on our findings.

We have been observing emergency room trends from late 2013 and we noticed something which is undoubtedly worrying. There has been a steady increase in the number of emergency room visitors since 2013. Actually according to our research, there has been a 15% increase from 2013 to 2016. In three years, there has been an increase of about 15 million visitors and with the number of emergency rooms pretty much the same, it only means that there has been increased pressure on the emergency rooms. This means that there has been a drastic increase in the number of hours that people have to wait for in line before they are served. This is where the friction starts to build now. Not all people are waiting to wait in line for too long before they can receive treatment. There are those who are patient enough to wait, but not for too long. So we sought to find out how long patients are willing to wait in the emergency department before leaving without being seen.

The average waiting time in a typical emergency room in America is about 37 minutes during off peak hours but the same can stretch up to 3 hours during the peak hours. Yes, you might have to sit in an emergency room for upto 3 hours without being seen. According to a recent study, 65% of all medical emergency room visitors in America are only willing to wait to in line for upto 2 hours before leaving without being seen. Another 25% are willing to give it another half hour before they can finally call it quits and go away unattended to. The other percentage are the resilient people who are willing to wait until it is their turn to get service. Here are some of the factors which contribute greatly to increased numbers of people walking away without being seen;

Medical Condition and Triage

Emergency departments are places that have waves of people coming in by ambulance, by private car, on foot, and, in some cases, by helicopter. These people have all kinds of problems with all levels of severity. The severity of your medical condition will therefore have an effect on the priority you will get from the doctors in the emergency room. Using triage, the doctors are able to assign priorities to medical emergencies depending on the urgency of the condition.

In America, priority is given to more serious and life threatening conditions like trauma and heart attacks. When people are in such conditions, the facility always strives to ensure that they attend to them first before they can think about the other conditions like headaches and sneezing. This does not mean that the other ailments are not treated with seriousness, no, every patient has a right to be treated but following triage, you will have to bear with a little waiting in line if your condition is not as severe. People whose conditions are not deemed as urgent are therefore given more waiting time and will most likely walk away before they are examined by the physicians. Those whose conditions were deemed to be of higher acuity were among the 35% that was willing to wait past the 2 hour mark to receive attention. This disconnect might have been due in part to conveyance to the patient by the triage nurse, purposeful or not, as to the level of severity of his/her presenting illness. This might have influenced the patient’s decision. Interestingly, we did not find the same willingness to wait among patients who classified themselves as being in severe discomfort and/or having a high level of concern for their symptoms.

Doctor: Patient Ration

The other thing that will affect the amount of time that you will have to wait before receiving medical attention in an emergency room, is the ratio of medical practitioners to the number of patients. In most emergency rooms, the number of patients overwhelms the number of doctors. This means that the patients have to wait for longer before seeing the doctor. When this happens, some people will snap midway through the wait and walk away even before they are seen by the doctors.

In conclusion, it is important to note that high numbers of patients walking away without being seen should be worrying. Worrying because some people end up leaving with serious medical conditions which prove to be detrimental in the end. The high numbers also make people lose faith in service offered in emergency rooms. Emergency rooms should therefore put measures in place to ensure that they reduce the number of hours that people have to wait in line before getting a service.