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Understanding Emergency Department Wait Times

Sherelle Washington is the director of ambulatory services and manages the Apex Healthplex and Brier Creek Medical Park.

Emergency departments (ED) are not like a regular doctor offices where patients have appointments or urgent care where patients are seen in order of arrival.  The process of determining when a patient is seen in an ED is much more complicated and is completely related to the severity of the illness or injury.

When a patient arrives at the ED, whether by ambulance or walk-in, they are quickly triaged by a highly trained nurse to assess the severity of a patient’s condition, based on symptoms, medical history, and vital signs, such as temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.   ED staff use this triage process, based on a national standard of care called the Emergency Severity Index, to determine the severity of the illness and the order in which patients are seen.   The most critically ill patients are seen first. Many emergency departments have established Minor Treatment Areas to fast track patients with less acute problems such as sprains, ear or upper respiratory infections, but unfortunately there can still be a wait.

The most recent study published on emergency department wait times was released in 2006.  The study showed that the national average for emergency department wait times was 222 minutes, or 3.7 hours before being seen by a provider.  From February 28 to March 27, WakeMed’s average wait times across the system were 116 minutes at Raleigh Campus, 31 minutes at Apex Healthplex, 53 minutes North Healthplex and 61 minutes at Cary Hospital – all well below the national average.

We know that any length of time spent waiting is difficult – especially when you feel ill.  But rest assured that WakeMed’s emergency physicians and staff are committed to providing high-quality emergency care as quickly as possible to all patients.


One thought to “Understanding Emergency Department Wait Times”

  1. It is still hard to understand the term “emergency department”. I went in Monday for Renal Colic, experiencing the worst pain in my life, and had to sit and wait for 3 hours in a hall waiting to be seen. Sorry, but I find that absurd! This pain warranted me going to the ER and not waiting for my doctor. Administered pain relief at the point of my arrival was almost 4 hours away! By this time my stone had passed, and I wanted to leave and not even pay the enormous co-pay I still would have had to pay just in having the triag person take my blood pressure! Poor excuse of managing patients and a great representation of what our medical world has become!

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