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Trends in hospital marketing – as seen in Akron

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The Akron Beacon Journal reports:

Akron General Health System recently began advertising up-to-the-minute wait times for its emergency rooms on billboards throughout town. Six digital billboards in Akron are automatically updated every 20 minutes to show current average wait times to see a doctor at the main ER in downtown Akron and in satellite ERs in the Montrose area and Stow.

The same info is on the hospital system’s website:

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The newspaper provides some background on this trend:

“Local hospitals increasingly are competing to grow their share of ER business, particularly since Akron General opened its satellite emergency departments in Bath Township and Stow in recent years.

Akron-based Summa Health System is working on a plan to share updated ER wait times and other information via mobile devices, spokesman Mike Bernstein said.

”We expect to begin offering this service in the next several weeks, beginning with Summa Akron City Hospital, and then we will begin to roll it out to the other hospitals throughout the year,” Bernstein said.

More hospitals nationwide are starting to advertise their ER wait times through billboards, Web sites, text messages or social media sites, such as Twitter.

Some emergency medicine doctors, however, see this as a dangerous trend.

By viewing wait times, patients with serious problems might mistakenly drive across town to see a doctor quicker when, in fact, ER personnel make sure those with the most critical problems are seen immediately, said Dr. David C. Seaberg, a member of the board of directors of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

”I just think there are some real problems with doing this,” said Seaberg, dean and professor at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga.

Although emergency departments routinely monitor their wait times to try to improve, sharing the data publicly ”is really just a marketing tool more than anything else,” he said. ”I worry about the potential harm that may be done by doing this.”

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