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MGH Emergency Room Wait Times Shorter than Other Boston Hospitals

Medicare database shows how hospitals across Boston—and the nation—compare for care. Hospitals, meanwhile, criticized the data as inaccurate.

Which Boston emergency room is the most efficient? It depends on what you mean, according to data released by the Center for Medicare & Medicid Services.

At Massachusetts General Hospital on Beacon Hill, patients only had to wait an average of 10 minutes in the emergency department before they were seen by a healthcare professional, compared with a nationwide average of 30 minutes and a statewide average of 40 minutes.

However, MGH patients wait longer than average to be sent home and much longer than average to be admitted as an inpatient.

Key measures of ER efficiency have been posted from hospitals taking part across the country, according to a report by Cheryl Clark, 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,” wrote Clark.

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 and whether they received a brain scan if they might have suffered a stroke.

CHART: See how Boston Medical Center compares to other city emergency rooms

Clark interviewed Dr. Jesse Pines, an emergency room doctor and researcher who directs the center for healthcare quality at George Washington University.

“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.”

She added:

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.”

In any case, residents can compare the ER care at any three local hospitals in the national database.

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 there allows you to “View More Details,” 

Were you surprised by any of the stats displayed?  Tell us in the comments.

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