Emergency departments post wait times on the web

Marketing pushes idea, but ED had to approve

(Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part series on posting wait times online. In this story, we tell you how two EDs prepared to add this service. In next month's issue, we'll tell you how the EDs used a test web site to help the staff become acclimated to the new system.)

Several months ago, the two EDs of Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, OR, began posting their waiting times on their home page (www.peacehealth.org/shmc). There was a good deal of hesitation at first, say the ED leaders. However, patient satisfaction has risen from 96% to 100%, and the "peaks and valleys" of patient flow seem to have leveled out, they say.

"It was initiated by our marketing department," recalls Joy Cresci, RN, assistant administrator of emergency and critical care for Sacred Heart, which has EDs in its RiverBend facility in Springfield and at University District in Eugene. "They found out that Scottsdale [AZ] Health System have their times on their web site." As it turned out, one of Sacred Heart's hospitalists had come from that system and said that it had been helpful, she says.

The move made sense to the marketing department from a competitive standpoint. Rival McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center in Springfield had been boasting about its short ED wait times on billboards and on its web site for months. Initially, however, there was lot of pushback in the ED, especially from charge nurses. "They felt we would be setting up false expectations," explains Cresci, who ultimately led the effort to post the ED wait times.

Gary Young, MD, the ED medical director, says, "It's something we struggle with all the time. There were times recently when we had record numbers of patients coming to the EDs, even though many had H1N1 and were able to go home."

Hospital administration left the decision up to the ED, and the department leadership began meeting to discuss the idea. "The competition of the other hospital changed many peoples' perspectives," says Cresci, "So I called the hospitals in Scottsdale to talk to their ED charge nurses and see if any of the issues raised by our charge nurses had materialized, and they said they hadn't."

The other reason the move made sense, says Cresci, is that one of the Sacred Heart hospitals had been open only for about a year, and the newer hospital was being overwhelmed with patients. The older facility had more capacity and could have taken more patients.

"Part of what we did to pave the way was to educate the community," adds Cresci. "We let them know that both EDs were staffed by the same doctors and the same level ED nurses." When they "went live" in September 2009, she adds, news releases were issued and interviews were conducted on local TV stations.

Young says, "We've been getting the word out through the media and mailings for more than a year, and it's still hard to make sure everyone understands what's happened with the two EDs. It will probably take another year or two."


For more information on posting waiting times online, contact:

  • Joy Cresci, RN, Assistant Administrator of Emergency and Critical Care; Gary Young, MD, ED Medical Director, Sacred Heart Medical Center, Eugene, OR. Phone: (541) 686-7300.