Broken Bone? How Long You'll Wait for Meds at Virginia Hospital Center, Inova Fairfax
Emergency room wait times, timely and effective surgical care and other measures of emergency care effectiveness at our local hospitals.
If you go to the emergency room at Inova Fairfax Hospital with a broken bone, how long will it take before you get pain medicine?
The federal government says 50 minutes on average—that’s faster than the national average of 62 minutes, according to hospital comparison statistics available through Medicare.gov.
If you go to Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, that same wait could be just 40 minutes.
That’s just one new key measure of ER efficiency that has been posted online from hospitals taking part in this data initiative,according to a report by former Union-Tribune writer Cheryl Clark, now senior quality editor for HealthLeaders Media.
“With precious little fanfare, Uncle Sam last month rolled out a big, fat database with seven measures comparing a service that many people—healthcare providers and patients alike—consider the most critical any hospital can provide,” Clark wrote last week.
The database said the Inova Fairfax Hospital ER was about average at effective heart failure care, better than the national average at effective pneumonia care, and slightly better than average at timely and effective surgical care.
The Virginia Hospital Center ER is better than the national average at providing effective heart attack care, effective pneumonia care and timely and effective surgical care, according to the database.
In late 2012, the Virginia Hospital Center was recognized as an Emergency Center of Excellence—something only a handful of ERs nationwide received.
Factors that Play Into Wait Times
Of course, much of this depends on time of day and day of the week you are visiting the emergency department, as any ER doctor can tell you. Friday and Saturday nights tend to be busy, for example.
Patients can see hospital up-to-the-minute wait times at all Inova hospitals at inova.org.
According to the Inova ER Wait Times webpage, "Many circumstances can affect wait times – for example, patients arriving by ambulance or with life-threatening injuries or illnesses. Patients with life-threatening conditions will be seen before those with less-serious problems or ailments."
Data collected in 2011 and early 2012 also tracked how long it took for an ER patient to be seen by a healthcare professional and how long the wait was to get a bed if they needed admission. Other data showed how long patients spent in the ER before being sent home, whether they received a brain scan if they might have suffered a stroke, how many heart attack patients received aspirin and how quick and more.
Clark interviewed Dr. Jesse Pines, an emergency room doctor and researcher who directs the center for healthcare quality at George Washington University (where the broken bone-pain medication wait time is almost double the national average at 110 minutes).
“The theory is that when hospitals report this information, it makes them focus on it, and improve throughout their [Emergency Department],” Pines was quoted as saying.
“But it’s very hard to do. Certain performance measures are easier to fix—like simple process measures like giving patients an aspirin—than improving ED throughput, which involves development of interdisciplinary teams.”
Pines told Clark the public focus good pushes hospital administrators to focus on the emergency room as well as other metrics.
In a column, Clark said she thought the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would “make a bigger fuss about such a major release.”
Certainly with so much concern about ED overcrowding, and the number of patients being boarded in hospital hallways and even closets, coughing on each other and getting sicker as they wait, a three-month picture of the state of an ED’s throughput speed should be a very big deal.
But after a few conversations with emergency care experts who know how to read between the lines of this 29,664-record database, I started to realize how raw and flawed this effort still is.
She said a “bizarre glitch” by the Georgia Hospital Association showed wait times for 170 Georgia emergency rooms as “hopelessly inflated.”
How to do Your Own ER Comparison
In any case, residents can compare the ER care at Inova Alexandria Hospital with other local hospitals in the national database by following these steps:
First go to the Hospital Compare website. Then type in your ZIP code, city or local hospital. When a list of hospitals is displayed, put a checkmark next to two or three hospitals.
Scroll down to a yellow button labeled Compare Now, and click to display more details. Look for a tab called Timely and Effecive Care and click that.
Finally, scroll down to a section called Timely Emergency Department Care. A green button allows you to view more details.
What has your ER experience been at Virginia Hospital Center or Inova Fairfax?