Waiting in the ER With A Client

ERs are the bane of the healthcare system and right now for me. I am sitting in a waiting room of a local ER in Massachusetts. The doctor’s office, rather than fitting my client in, sent her to the ER because her regular PCP was not in . She was too complicated for another doctor. So here we are waiting.

When we arrived, I asked the other people in the waiting room how long had they been there. Three hours. I felt my blood pressure rise. Within probably 20 minutes, they all went in.  They had started to complain about the wait. Our wait is already at an hour.

We were triaged right away which is no indication of how long the wait to be seen is. As usual, the triage nurse was  dismissive of whatever either of us had to say. I tried to explain the situation but he was not listening. My client was not in cardiac distress, so thank you very much and have a seat with an addendum of,  it’ll be a wait. He did say it with a smile!

Are there any tricks to getting in faster?  Come by ambulance.  You are automatically put in the treatment section.  Make friends with the registration person and ask them to check on your status.  It may not get you in faster, but it will use up some time.  It used to help if your doctor called ahead to the ER, but I find that doesn’t have much impact anymore.

After waiting 2.5 hours, my client was  called.  I noticed her symptoms were worse. Once we were placed in a room, I was surprised how quickly things moved.  Labs, EKG, radiological tests and MD exam all happened within the hour.  Results took some time but overall, it was about an six hours at the ER.  Luckily, my client didn’t need to be admitted.  One of the medical assistants told me there were no beds available in the hospital because Labor Day weekend had been so busy.

I don’t have a solution for the ERs.  I wish I did.  I  have one thought.  Why can’t the ER waiting rooms be like the motor vehicle department’s system.  At registration or check in, a number is given.  The numbers being serviced appear on a flash board.  Everyone in the room knows where they stand.  How about putting some approximate times?   Not having any idea when you will be called certainly raises the stress level.

How about phone in registration?   Registration is about getting your demographics and insurance.  I could do that on the way to the ER.

It would be helpful if all ERs had an urgent care section. Urgent cares can handle non emergent /life threatening cases like sore throats, simple sutures and other primary care issues.  Urgent care can utilize nurse practitioners and physician assistants, to ease the load.  I worked in several ERs on the urgent care side.  It helped  keep wait times down.

Is there any way to make an ER, user friendly? I would love to hear some ideas!  I will do anything to keep my clients out of ERs. It isn’t going to get any easier especially with the cutbacks in healthcare.  In Massachusetts, even with mandated  health insurance, primary care providers are overwhelmed and very busy.  Acute visits frequently are referred to the ER.  There is just not enough time in the schedule.

What I do as an advocate, is make sure my clients don’t get left in the waiting room and get the right care once in the treatment area.  I find most ER medical professionals are responsive and appreciative of my role.  I can explain information, assist with understanding consent forms and interact with the family.  Since I know how to move around an ER, I am able to access information quickly.

My best ER advise: make sure you have someone with you.  It can be overwhelming.