Organic Matter

Reader has questions about hospital claims on waiting times

Reader Pat Knudson sent me a letter after reading my June 13 story comparing fast track and urgent care options available or soon to open in Kingman.

She cited a sentence, which stated "average waiting time in Fast Track (at Kingman Regional Medical Center) is 20 minutes" and urged me to do more research to uncover the truth.

What Knudson did not put in the letter was the full sentence given to me by Ryan Kennedy, executive director of community services at the hospital.

After 20 minutes, it stated "depending on patient volume."

As medical information on individuals is protected by law from disclosure, I can only report what I am told by different sources.

Consequently, I do not know how I could research waiting times short of sitting in the Emergency Room for hours on end and timing how long it takes to call patients back.

Knudson's letter centered on a friend she took to the E.R.

with a broken nose two months earlier.

The friend saw a triage nurse in short order, but a prolonged wait then began before a doctor could see her.

Knudson stated in her letter she saw the doctor twice "sauntering around" behind a counter, the inference being he was not that busy.

In the meantime, the friend was started on an IV solution that did little for the pain and she walked to the counter pleading for help from the pain and nausea she was experiencing.

The doctor saw her briefly and ordered Phenergan added to her IV for the nausea and additional tests.

Knudson went home after her friend's husband arrived.

She later learned it was another 2.5 hours before the doctor saw her friend.

I phoned Kennedy about the incident and asked him to investigate.

He contacted me a few days later and said he could not confirm what Knudson had put in her letter since she did not include her friend's name.

He said he believes the friend may not have been a fast track patient, but someone seen in the main part of the E.R.

Kennedy went on to say he had been given incorrect information when he told me the average fast track waiting time was 20 minutes.

The time in May for someone coming through the doors to being seen by a triage nurse was an average of 36 minutes.

The fast track door-to-physician waiting time for the month was between 2.5 hours and 3.25 hours, again depending on patient volumes.

I have taken my wife Colleen to the emergency room many times for such problems as falls, angina attacks and seizures so the two of us know all about waiting times.

Colleen had never been seen in the fast track department until May 11, when she went in with a swollen and discolored little toe on her right foot.

She had tried to answer the doorbell at home too quickly and banged the toe hard against her walker.

We saw the triage nurse within the aforementioned time frame and a doctor 15 minutes later.

He ordered a pain shot and X-rays that confirmed the toe was broken.

As far as the main section of the E.R., serious problems such as angina and asthma attacks are nearly always ahead of broken bones and that's the way it should be.

About three months ago, Colleen had seizures as we were finishing a meal at a restaurant.

They worsened, so the fire department and ambulance service was called and she was transported to the E.R.

She was stable and put in the waiting room as no beds were available at a time when others with more serious problems were awaiting treatment.

Her seizures eventually passed and once that happens there is no point in being seen by a doctor, so we left.

We spent five hours there for nothing more than a triage and I was not happy about it.

So what's the answer? I don't know that there is one.

Even if the manpower is available to put on more doctors at every emergency care location for every shift, isn't that going to raise the cost of health care further? Those people have to be paid and tests and procedures they may order must be paid.

Terry Organ is the Miner's education, health and weather reporter.