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ER wait times streamlined, still may be too long for emergencies

A visit to the emergency room is not something most people in Providence would look forward to, even under the best circumstances. Aside from considering the fear and pain of a situation that could land a person in the ER, there is a widespread belief that emergency room waits are overly long. In recent years, many hospitals across the country have made improvements to their procedures that get patients in and out of the ER in an efficient and streamlined way – at least in comparison to the way things were run before. However, ER wait times remain a concern for many patients, especially if a mistake may lead to someone not being treated quickly enough in a life-threatening emergency.

According to U.S. News, 28 percent of 2,100 emergency room doctors who were recently polled reported that their patient volume has increased in the ER since the Affordable Care Act was enacted. Not surprisingly, more patients could increase the time one spends waiting for emergency care. A busy, understaffed emergency room might also create more opportunities for a nurse or physician error. As an example, a triage nurse may improperly evaluate one patient’s situation and send him or her to wait while other patients are seen. If the waiting patient’s condition worsens or is more severe than the nurse thought, the result can be devastating.

With a serious emergency such as chest pain or stroke symptoms, being seen in a matter of minutes is crucial. Emergency room staff places those with more severe cases at a higher priority than, say, someone with a broken leg. However, it is not always easy to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack or other life-threatening condition. The average wait time for an emergency room in Rhode Island, according to ProPublica, is 31 minutes – plenty of time for a hospital error to occur. Therefore, it is possible for the amount of time a patient waits to receive emergency treatment to contribute to a medical malpractice lawsuit.

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