As patient volumes in hospital emergency departments (EDs) are going up, waiting times to see an ED physician are getting longer, particularly for heart attack patients and those in need of the most immediate attention, according to a study by Harvard Medical School researchers at the Cambridge Health Alliance published today as a Health Affairs Web Exclusive.[2-week free access]

The researchers found that the median ED wait time went up from 22 minutes in 1997 to 30 minutes in 2004, a 36 percent increase. For patients diagnosed in the ED with acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack, the median wait time increased a steep 150 percent, from 8 minutes in 1997 to 20 minutes in 2004. And for those identified in ED triage as needing attention “emergently,” wait times increased from 10 minutes in 1997 to 14 minutes in 2004, an increase of 40 percent.

For coverage of the study, go here, here, and here (Wall Street Journal subscription required).