In 2016, nearly 300,000 patients received emergency care throughout Sharp HealthCare. When you visit the emergency room (ER), you hope to receive immediate care, but you may have to wait several hours before seeing a doctor.
The demand for emergency care nationwide is increasing due in part to health policy changes and fewer outpatient facilities, so understanding the ER process may make your next visit easier.
After checking in, you will see a triage nurse, who is trained to classify patients based upon the urgency of their medical condition. This process helps determine how quickly a doctor should see you. For example, a patient with a life-threatening condition, such as chest pain, may see a doctor right away. In that case, patients experiencing a sore throat or migraine headache may need to wait a little longer.
“Throughout your visit, nurses will assess your condition to make sure you receive proper care,” says Marlena Montgomery, director of the Sharp Memorial Hospital Emergency Department.
While you are waiting, patients are also arriving continually by ambulance with urgent health conditions. These patients often get top priority, and adjustments are made in the ER schedule to accommodate their care.
The next step is an exam with a doctor, who may order lab work or radiology. “There is a limited amount of resources for radiology and lab, so when those are maxed out, there can be an additional wait,” says Montgomery.
To help minimize wait times and increase patient satisfaction, the Sharp Memorial Emergency Department developed Quick Care. This area is designated for patients who can be treated and discharged in the ER within 90 minutes, such as patients needing urgent medication refills. In addition, Sharp Coronado Hospital has implemented an online appointment system to reduce the wait time for patients who need to be seen for non-life-threatening or limb-threatening conditions.
Admittance or discharge
Lastly, your doctor will decide to admit or discharge you from the hospital. If you’re discharged, your doctor will review any lab work or radiology results with you, discuss your diagnosis, give you prescriptions for medications (if needed) and provide instructions for follow-up care. Before you leave, you will process your payment for the visit.
The Sharp Memorial Emergency Department offers the following tips to help you navigate ER wait times.
Consider urgent care
Sharp HealthCare has urgent care centers throughout San Diego that provide care for urgent medical problems that are not life-threatening, such as ear aches, rashes or minor burns. An urgent care visit may be a quicker alternative when you need immediate care.
Avoid peak hours
The ER is typically busiest between 3 and 9 pm. Morning hours between 7 and 10 am tend to be the best time to visit the ER to avoid a long wait. “During this block of time, all of our patient care areas are open, we are fully staffed and each section has a doctor,” says Annette Austin, manager of the Sharp Memorial Hospital Emergency Department.
Bring important documents
Make sure you bring your photo ID, insurance card, medical history and a list of medications. These documents can help ensure you’re seen in a timely manner and have proper care.
“Additionally, Sharp Memorial recently added nine more beds to the Emergency Department, and we have plans to expand further,” says Montgomery. “We are always thinking of new ways to minimize wait times and accommodate the continual increase of patient volume."