Waiting time at the ER room is a sore point for people who need emergency medical help. While in triage those who need immediate help will always be seen quickly, for those with less urgent needs, waiting for help can feel like a nightmare. Fortunately for residents of New Jersey, that wait time just went down, and New Jersey hospitals are working to keep decreasing it for the benefit of our residents.

Why ER visitors have to wait

When a case is obviously urgent, such as a gunshot wound or heart attack, the patient will be ushered into care immediately to save his life.

In all other cases, the person who is helping the patient will approach the registration desk to explain why the patient is there and fill out a form. Then comes the first wait.

Usually, the patient is called pretty quickly – within a few minutes – to be assessed by an intern, resident, or nurse practitioner, who will decide how urgent the case is and where the patient will stand on the waiting list to get treatment.

The next wait is usually longer, as the doctors will see the patients and provide care in the order they need to be seen. The doctor will also decide if the patient needs to be admitted, stay for observation, or sent home.

How New Jersey hospitals are working to change the situation

Nobody wants to wait to be seen for an urgent medical issue. Anyone who is at the emergency room needs help somewhat immediately, and it can be very stressful to have to wait. Physically, an urgent condition can deteriorate while the patient is waiting, causing intense suffering in many ways. Every minute can seem like an eternity.

However, it can take a lot to seriously bring down waiting times. Part of the problem may be insufficient staff to handle the influx, and part of the problem may be a need to reorganize the system.

The new data, from propublica, a nonprofit public health service, shows that on average, wait times are decreasing in emergency rooms in New Jersey hospitals. Current waiting times are 25.5 minutes, which  is down several minutes from the data 4 years ago, which showed a 30 minute average wait time.

While one might associate this decline in wait time with fewer ER visits, this isn’t the case for New Jersey hospitals. Kerry McKean Kelly, vice president of communications and member services for the New Jersey Hospital Association, said that overall emergency room visits have remained steady over the last 5 years at about 3.15 million annual visits. She noted that “The decline in wait times isn’t so much about reduced volume; it’s about hospitals providing care in the emergency room more effectively and more efficiently.”

She also gave some examples of how the hospitals are achieving this. Some of them have created a fast track area where the least serious cases can be taken care of quickly and sent home. Others have developed specific specialty zones for patients to be taken care of according to his specific needs. And another idea that has taken root is telemedicine, where doctors who aren’t on site can provide guidance and direction over the phone so patients can get to the next step faster. At Sinai Post Acute Care, we work with a telemedicine system to help our patients with urgent needs to avoid long wait lines if possible.

Finally, New Jersey hospitals are taking advantage of technological advances and using data systems to predict when volume will be higher or lower and then creating staffing solutions to meet those specific needs.