Hospital Compare, a website run by Medicare, recently released new figures on how long patients wait to receive care at hospital emergency departments.
The site compiles information from more than 4,000 Medicare-certified hospitals in the United States, including the two largest emergency care providers in Wichita: Via Christi Hospitals and Wesley Medical Center.
Data compiled on emergency departments allow consumers to compare wait times for patients who were given care and sent home, patients who were treated and admitted to the hospital, patients with broken bones who waited for pain medication, and the time patients waited before being seen by a health care professional.
The data, collected between Jan. 1, 2012, and March 31, 2012, are not currently tied to Medicare reimbursement and include information only on Medicare-eligible patients.
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But Gretchen Blake, directory of quality and patient safety for Via Christi Hospitals, said she thinks the measure will eventually be included with other metrics that could affect the funding rates the federal government uses to reimburse hospitals for treating Medicare recipients.
Both Wesley and Via Christi say they’ve seen an increase in recent years in the number of emergency department patient visits.
For Via Christi, the number of emergency department patient visits in 2012 was about 60,000 for the hospital on St. Francis, about 63,000 for the hospital on Harry and about 13,450 for the hospital on St. Teresa.
“Our mission is to care for those who are vulnerable and underserved,” Blake said. “We’ve already seen a spike. … We will continue to see that as the economy shifts overall job employment and the ability to afford insurance.”
Wesley officials said that in 2012, they had about 70,000 patient visits in the emergency department at the main facility and about 22,000 patient visits at the west facility.
Blake and Dr. Mark Mosley, Wesley emergency department medical director, said that often, people choose not to have a primary care provider and go to the ER for care.
By federal law, emergency departments are required to see patients regardless of their ability to pay.
Although Mosley said the federal law is rooted in good intentions, he said it has created problems for health care.
“People on the street know if you go to a regular doctor, you have to pay a deductible. If you go to ER, you don’t have to pay a deductible or anything,” Mosley said. “People know they can basically go in and out of system free. Even if they get a bill, a lot of people know they can’t pay the bill and won’t pay the bill. … ERs have become a charity system for everyday use. ERs are the only place in medicine where you can’t ask that question (of their ability to pay).”
Hospitals say they also are seeing more patients who go to emergency departments to receive dental care. At Wesley, Mosley said that nearly one in 15 patients they see on a daily basis come for dental treatment, but emergency departments are not set up to provide dental care as are dentists’ offices.
Data available on the Hospital Compare site also include information on hospital readmissions, complications, deaths and time of response to certain conditions, among other statistics.