This story is a part of Untold Florida, a WUFT News series built from your questions. Reginald Jones, an audience member, asked us, “Our hospitals advertise how short the waiting times are in their emergency rooms. How long do people actually wait?”
Whether your visit to an emergency room is to treat a minor or major injury, the amount of time it takes to be seen by a doctor can feel like a lifetime.
In our area, we wanted to explore the range of hospital wait times. A spokesman for North Florida Regional Medical Center initially offered a walk-through of its emergency department but later declined a visit or to give a statement beyond the wait time listed on its website. UF Health Shands Chief Executive Ed Jimenez did speak on the issue, elaborating on the reasons for Shands’ longer wait times (see a chart below comparing each).
Jimenez said Shands measures a patient’s wait time as soon as he or she walks in.
“The clock starts when you walk into the front door and it ends in two ways,” he said. “One is when you leave to go home, and the other is when you leave to go to a bed if you need to stay in the hospital.”
Although every hospital has the same goal of treating as many patients in the shortest amount of time, wait times can change within seconds. Donna Smith lives in Ocala and used to work in a hospital. She said she went to Munroe Regional’s TimberRidge emergency room earlier this year for a misdiagnosis of kidney stones. She was seen and treated immediately.
Smith said in order for patients to quickly get the care they need, it’s best to provide focus and be patient.
“When you go into the emergency room, they don’t want to know your life story at the beginning,” Smith said. “You have to know what to say and have to be a genuine emergency. If you don’t have a genuine emergency, you could be the next person to be in line, and in comes somebody having a heart attack. Tough — you wait.”
Some hospitals, including North Florida, advertise wait times to help draw in patients. While it can be beneficial, Jimenez said patients should ignore what he calls a marketing tactic.
“So this whole billboard — of some important magical mystique about being seeing a professional in 10 minutes or 15 minutes or whatever that is — is quite honestly a marketing thing that is not helpful to you or me when we need the emergency care,” he said.
In Crystal River, Seven Rivers emergency room doctor Patrick Jean said those who have experienced long waits can find ways to trick the system.
“We’ve had people leave the waiting room, go home, and call the EMS so they could get in the back faster,” Jean said. “We have people that come up there and say, ‘Oh I’m having chest pains,’ when they’re not really having chest pains or, ‘Oh, I’m having a stroke,’ because they know that that brings them back in faster.”
In other words, avoid lying. Shands registered nurse Travis Wood also suggests there’s a positive side when your wait time is longer than expected.
“The longer it’s actually taking for you to get seen, the better it is for your health,” he said, explaining that quality medical care takes time. “Because we’ve already assessed you and taken your vital signs, we’ve done a lab or two, we’ve done you know some sort of EKG or X-ray and that’s actually shown that you are not currently dying which is a good thing.”
Shands registered nurse and emergency department manager Wendy Swan said hospital employees do everything they can to speed up the emergency room process.
“The sickest patients come here, which can result in wait times sometimes for the people who aren’t the sickest, even though they’re sick also,” she said. “We have a responsibility to be creative and create care spaces that are supplemental and still accommodate the sickest ones that come in here with life-threatening injuries.”
Federal Medicare data shows seven different types of wait time measurements for hospitals in north central Florida. You can explore each one below.