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Emergency room wait times down at Cook County hospital

Updated: October 5, 2012 7:19AM

A trip to Stroger Hospital’s ER might be a little less painful, now that staff there have cut the average wait time to see a doctor by about one third.

In 2011, the average wait used to be nearly 3 hours, but this year it’s down to almost 2 hours, according to Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office.

“It has been a top priority of this administration to identify ways to make the county’s health system more financially sustainable without jeopardizing patient care,” Preckwinkle said in a statement. “While there is more work to be done to lower wait times in our emergency room, the drop in wait times is proof-positive that our approach is working.”

Doctors have put in place a team approach, which reduces the number of steps between when a patient walks through the ER doors and when they see a doctor, Preckwinkle’s office said. By simultaneously having a clerk register a patient as a nurse asks the patient questions to determine the type of care needed the hospital has sliced its ER wait, according to Preckwinkle’s office. Last year the wait was 172 minutes, but through this year, it’s down to 111 minutes.

The county’s new approach has resulted in a drop - 36 percent - in the number of patients who leave the ER without seeing a doctor.

Stroger has approximately 139,000 visitors annually, according to a spokesman for Preckwinkle’s office.

The waiting room reduction is part of a national trend, according to Rebecca Parker, a Chicago-area physician who is on the board of directors of the Texas-based American College of Emergency Physicians.

Doctors are all looking at ways to reduce the amount of time patients spend in the ER because Medicare has begun tying payments to quality of service, said Parker.

A two-hour average wait is still probably longer than the norm nationwide, but she said slashing the wait time by one-third is nevertheless “a significant improvement.”

It’s also important, Parker noted, to consider the patients Stroger serves, some of whom may have limited access to a regular doctor’s office and come to the ER for with minor medical complaints.

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