Real time or hospital time? Analyzing ER wait time claims

Last week we spent all week poking holes in various medical marketing claims on this blog.  Shall we have another go at it this week?

Karen Shiffman of WBUR in Boston cut herself while cutting flowers, went to the ER, and then tested the advertising claim that this particular ER would only have a 19 minute waiting period. She writes:

“About half an hour later, a nurse brought me in to an exam room, took my temperature and blood pressure, and asked me to unwrap my hand. After he had a look at the gash, he handed me some fresh gauze wrapping and sent me back to wait. About half an hour after that, I was taken to another exam room where another nurse looked at my wound, then gave me more gauze and some paperwork to fill out.

Photo: Carey Goldberg

Photo: Carey Goldberg

“What’s up with that billboard sign?” I asked her. “I thought I was going to be seen within 19 minutes.”

She rolled her eyes and said, “Tell me about it. We get that all the time. It just means that you’re going to get to the receptionist by then. Why don’t you call and tell the marketing people that it’s not true?”

Another half hour after that — so roughly 90 minutes in all after I arrived — a nurse practitioner fixed up my finger.”

You can read her blog post to see how the medical center defines “wait time.”

We first wrote about this hospital marketing trend – advertising ER wait times on billboards – more than 3 years ago.

Now some journalists across the US are scrutinizing the claims.  This week, KLAS-TV, Las Vegas, reported:   8 on Your Side: Advertised Emergency Room Wait Times. 


Addendum on May 8:  A recent paper in the Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, “Advertising Emergency Department Wait Times,” concluded: “Given the lack of rigorous evidence supporting the practice and potential adverse effects to the public health, caution about its use is advised.”



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