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Stroger's ER wait time falls to under 2 hours

Friday, October 05, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by Hal Dardick

Cook County is touting success in cutting the time it takes to see a doctor at Stroger Hospital's emergency room as officials prepare to wipe more jobs off the books in the county's vast public health system.

So far this year, the average wait time to see a doctor is one hour and 51 minutes, about one hour less than it took last year, officials said Thursday. The number of patients who gave up and left without being seen also has dropped, from about 12 percent to less than 8 percent, they said.

The figures are based on the electronic records of patients who come to the emergency room on the Near West Side for treatment. Last year, nearly 139,000 patients entered the emergency room doors, a figure officials expect to be matched this year.

"The drop is good," said Dr. Rebecca Parker, a board member for the American College of Emergency Physicians. "That is no easy feat. They should be applauded for making those efforts."

Making comparisons to other hospitals, and specifically big city hospitals that treat large numbers of people who can't afford to pay for medical services, is difficult. The most recent statistics, kept by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, show that the average wait time at metropolitan emergency rooms was one hour in 2006, but the agency did not break out hospitals by type.

Parker said it's also important to determine how quickly patients with potentially more serious problems — like chest pains, shortness of breath and stroke symptoms — are being treated in comparison to others. The county did not break out those figures.

In recent years, the county Health and Hospitals System had been criticized for lengthy wait times to see a physician, with critics contending those times swelled as the system cut costs in tough economic times.

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and hospitals CEO Dr. Ramanathan Raju announced the reduced wait times as they prepare to eliminate more than 300 vacant jobs from the system. The wait reductions are partly the result of having incoming patients seen by clerks and nurses at the same time, rather than separately, they said, adding that more work was needed.

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