ER Wait Times

I was driving down the Massachusetts Turnpike the other afternoon on my way out of Boston when I noticed a billboard.  It said something to the affect of “send a text to this number if you want to know how long ER wait times are.”  Essentially, don’t get stuck waiting at the ER, call ahead!

OK, so what’s wrong with this picture?  The abbreviation ER stands for Emergency Room.  If it is an “emergency” then it can’t wait, and you should be at the ER.  If it is NOT an emergency, why are you going to the ER? 

Now, before you jump all over me for this comment, I realize that the medical industry has done a great disservice by only being available for normal office hours between 9am and 5pm (or even fewer hours) for a large majority of the population, but this billboard attempting to make a bad situation better is not the answer.

Imagine you did the same thing you your customers.  “Please text this number before you call support to see how long your wait will be.”  Would your customers be happy with this kind of service?  I think not.

Your customers should be able to get help when they want it.  Ideally, they should never have to call you for support because your quality is so good, but if they do, then you need to be there with the right part or service, at the right time in the amount the customer wants… not some convenient 9-to-5 window.  The world isn’t running on 9-to-5 anymore, so that means you can’t either.

Getting back to the medical industry, our own health care provider (and I’m sure many others) now offers “urgent care” which allows us to visit a doctor off-hours for the same copay as a regular office visit.  I don’t pay to go to the ER, and I don’t sit around taking up the services of people with bigger problems than me.  It’s a win-win.  Sometimes you have to rethink how you deliver services to your customers rather than just making a bad situation a bit more bearable.

2 thoughts on “ER Wait Times”

  1. Have you ever spent anytime doing process analysis in the healthcare industry or hospitals? I have not, my career has been in the financial industry.

    However, my wife is a nurse and I have had a few family members in the hospital the last few years so I’ve spent some time thinking about their processes.

    I can only conclude that customer service is not really a high priority for hospitals. They are measuring things, but satisfaction is not one of them.

    I suppose there are several reasons for that…but one must be that people don’t really choose hospital care like they choose a new vacuum cleaner. Most people have one or two choices of care through their insurance, and don’t spend enough time in hospitals to really see the benefit of one over the other. So perhaps hospitals do not have much incentive to improve process or favor customer centric care.

  2. Lou,

    This is an excellent point. In an environment without many choices, one need not worry about competition much. At least, not until the competition shows up and suddenly you find yourself playing catch up.

    It’ll probably take a bigger shift than a few providers offering urgent care, but if more of those services show up, the traditional thinking of “they’ll have to come here because they won’t have an alternative” may go the way of the dodo. I don’t think the shift is going to be sudden or dramatic, but the prospect of after hours care may chip away at the edges of using the ER instead. And if my copay is any indication of the charged incurred for an ER visit, my guess is a significant chunk of the hospital’s profits.

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