TUH active in reducing wait times

Despite hour-plus waiting averages, TUH among quickest in city.

People living around Temple University Hospital might have to wait to see a doctor, but the good news is that the wait is less than that at other major hospitals, according to new federal data.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services published new data for 2013 that shows the average wait time for patients at Temple before being admitted as an inpatient is 320 minutes. This is the lowest inpatient wait time in the area, when compared against other Philadelphia hospitals such as Jefferson Hospital, The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Einstein Medical Center.

Patients seeking care at Temple Hospital spend an average of 54 minutes waiting in the emergency room before being seen by a healthcare professional, a wait time that comes in second only to Einstein Medical Center, where the wait time is an average of 51 minutes. Jefferson University Hospital also had an average wait time of 54 minutes.

The average time that patients have to wait to see a doctor after being admitted is also low for Temple, which clocked in at around 118 minutes.

Robert McNamara, professor and chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Temple Hospital, said there are multiple factors that determine how long it takes for a patient to be seen, including the number of beds available for patients, the severity of the patient who is going to be treated and the time someone shows up to be seen by a doctor. “Mondays are always busy, across the board, across the country, the highest volume day in any emergency is Monday,” McNamara said. This contributes to a longer wait time.

He also discussed a triage system which determines who is seen first, despite who shows up at what time. “When you come into an ER at Temple, you’re immediately seen by a nursing staff member who then does what is called a triage assessment, and they determine your level of severity of illness on a scale of one to five,” McNamara said.

An example would be someone shot in the chest or not breathing, who would be seen immediately, as opposed to people assigned a number lower on the list.

The real issue, according to McNamara, is the lack of access to primary care that also drives the volume at Temple Hospital. “The crisis in North Philadelphia health care is the lack of primary care providers. Look at it from a patient’s prospective. Why does Temple have 80,000 emergency department visits? Because there aren’t family doctors, there isn’t after hour care available. If it’s 8 p.m., where are you going to see a doctor?”

There have been complaints over ER wait times, said hospital staff. Nicole Gigliotti, a patient interviewer in the emergency department at Temple, said, “For some people, they wait for hours and hours, it depends on the time of day that they’re there and what happened to them.”

“Of course some people will get antsy, they don’t want to be sitting around all day, especially if they think that their complaint or their child’s complaint is something that is really serious.”

Despite the low wait times, Temple has made some improvements in order to help with wait issues. The hospital has restructured its emergency department to become more efficient.

“When patients come in, they have to see the nurses and us, the patient interviewers,” Gigliotti said, “Before, they used to immediately go to patient interviewers so we could just get their name, birthday or put them in as a new patient and then they went to a nurse right after that. But now when they come in, they tell the nurse at the front their complaint, so some people see the doctors right away.”

Both Gigiliotti and McNamara pointed out that it would be more likely that a patient would be critical of the hospital then offer praise, but they both were very supportive of Temple University Hospital. “There’s 10 times the stories of people who got a bed where they had to wait, but the stories where the people didn’t have to wait, those are the stories you don’t hear.

“We want people to have good experiences,” McNamara said.

Matt Hulmes can be reached at mhulmes@temple.edu. 

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