Patients wait, on average, almost 1 hour to see a physician in a hospital ED, according to a CDC report based on a national survey of 362 EDs.
Wait times for ED care have been rising steadily over the past 10 years, from an average of 38 minutes in 1997 to 47 minutes in 2004 and 56 minutes in 2006. Researchers note, however, that the mean wait time for 2006 was skewed by some unusually long waits; most patients waited only about 30 minutes to see a physician.
Researchers say increased wait times reflect the forces of supply and demand: More people are arriving at fewer EDs. In all, about 119 million visits were made to EDs in 2006, a 32% increase from the 90 million visits made in 1996. During the same period, the number of EDs decreased from 4,900 in 1996 to fewer than 4,600 in 2006.
Other reasons contributing to longer wait times include more patients admitted to the hospital who wait in the ED for an available bed and a shortage of surgical specialists. In addition, many patients who have trouble getting an appointment at a care provider's office go to a hospital ED instead.
You can find the full report, National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2006 Emergency Department Summary, on the CDC's Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs.