If you go to the emergency room at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, you won't wait. Same thing with too - at least according to a new federal government database that discloses, among other things, the average ER wait times at hospitals.
The no-wait at Santa Rosa Memorial and Petaluma Valley puts those hospitals in the minority. The average wait time in the emergency room at Sonoma Valley Hospital is seven minutes. It's 34 and 41 minutes, respectively, at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa and Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa, according to the database.
It takes the ERs of Sonoma Valley and Queen of the Valley slightly more than two hours from the time that a patient arrives in the ER to the time they are sent home. In that category, both hospitals bested the average across California (173 minutes) and across the United States (140 minutes). Other area hospitals were markedly less efficient. The arrival-to-discharge time at Petaluma Valley was 145 minutes. It was 146 minutes at Sutter and 186 minutes at Santa Rosa Memorial.
Data for Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg District Hospital was unavailable for many of the categories measured, including emergency room performance.
Key measures of ER efficiency have been posted from hospitals taking part across the country, according to a report by former San Diego Union-Tribune writer Cheryl Clark, now 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,” Clark wrote last week.
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.
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—simple process measures like giving patients an aspirin—than improving ED throughput, which involves development of interdisciplinary teams.”
Pines told Clark the public attention 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.”
The database said the Queen of the Valley ER saw 29,686 patients in 2011, with 1 percent (about 297) leaving the ER before being seen. Petaluma Valley's ER, which saw 17,486 patients in 2011, also had a 1 percent (174 people) leave-before-being-seen rate.
Sonoma Valley's ER saw 4,742 patients in 2011, with 2 percent (95) leaving without being seen. Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa's ER had 13,365 patients in 2011; 4 percent of those people (about 534) left without being seen. At Santa Rosa Memorial, 6 percent of the 18,520 patients (about 1,111) who sought treatment there in 2011 left without being seen.
In any case, residents can compare the ER care at their Wine Country hospital of choice with any two other 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 allows you to “View More Details.”
What do you think of the performance of the region's hospitals? Tell us in the comments.