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How long is too long to wait at the ER?

When you present to an ER in New York City, you likely do so only because you believe you need immediate care. In such a potentially stressful situation, it may be difficult to hear that you have to wait to be seen. Just how long should you expect to wait, and when should you start to be concerned to you may be getting overlooked?

Upon arriving at the ER, you will likely be seen immediately by a triage nurse who will do a brief assessment and take your vital signs. Most hospitals use the information provided by that evaluation to assign you an Emergency Severity Index Score. The 2012 Implementation Handbook prepared for emergency department staffs by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality lists the ESI scale rankings from 1-5, with 1 being the most severe cases and 5 the least severe. Your ESI score is based where your condition is at compared to the following criteria:

  •          Do you need immediate life-saving intervention?
  •          Should you wait to be seen?
  •          How many treatment resources do you need?
  •          What are your vital signs?

According to information shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, patients with an ESI score of one wait an average of 10 minutes. Those assigned scores of two typically wait 25 minutes, while scores of three and four wait 30 minutes on average, and five 25 minutes.

If the times detailed above pass, and the ER does not appear to be particularly busy, you may want to remind the staff of your presence and ask how much longer you may have to wait. Remember that, as was detailed in an earlier post, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act mandates that you must receive at a minimum stabilizing treatment regardless of your ability to pay. 

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