ER WAITS CUT
Jonathan Betz reports.
PLANO - Waiting in the emergency room can be an excruciating experience.
Texas patients face some of the longest waits; the state ranks in the bottom half in the country in terms of extended ER visits.
But this week, a Texas Health Plano hospital made a bold guarantee: You'll see a doctor within 30 minutes.
There is hope that this will become standard procedure.
Lucille Esteban has spent up to an hour in a hospital emergency room waiting for her sick son to be seen.
"It makes you really nervous, because you're not sure if the people back there are aware of how serious the condition is," she said.
The average time in a Texas emergency room is more than four hours - 15 minutes longer than the national average.
But Texas Health Plano hospital has cut its wait time from 70 minutes to just 30. It is now guaranteeing that doctors will see patients within a half-hour of arrival.
"We've done total transformational change of the entire emergency department," said hospital president Dr. Jeffrey Canose.
They are using an elaborate computer system that tracks available beds and speeds up the screening process; nurses save the tedious questions for later.
"Could you be pregnant? How many children do you have? All those things are important to know, but we don't really need to know up front," explained ER manager Linda Van Pelt.
Emergency rooms have swelled as hospitals cut capacity, and patients increasingly turn to ERs for help.
Most ER waits at North Texas hospitals are at least one hour.
But Texas Health Plano is relatively small, seeing an average of only 140 ER patients a day. Even though its parent company operates 14 hospitals in North Texas, the 30-minute pledge is offered only at its Plano campus.
"We are already inviting people from our sister hospitals to come and observe what is now working for us," Canose said.
For Esteban, within five minutes of arriving, a doctor diagnosed her two-year-old with a serious asthma attack.
"[It] definitely makes me feel a lot more comfortable," she said.