Reston hospital uses cellphone texting to announce emergency room waiting time

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

If you've ever had to go to an emergency room to be treated, you might know how unpredictable the wait for a doctor can be. Someone might see you in five minutes, but it's possible -- likely, even -- to get stuck there for hours.

To make the ER more patient-friendly, Reston Hospital Center has devised a text-messaging service that tells you how long the wait will probably be. People can text "ER" to the number 23000 and receive a reply with the most up-to-date wait time. Standard message rates apply, as they say, depending on your cellphone plan.

Waiting times are also publicized on the hospital's Web site,

This texting service, which is also available at a few hospitals in Florida and in the Midwest, is an "exciting development in transparency," hospital spokeswoman Joanna Fazio, says. It's also a way for the hospital to show off its waiting times, which average 23 minutes, compared with the industry average of 55 minutes, Fazio says. In areas such as Miami, where multiple hospitals provide waiting room times online or by text, people can use the information to decide which ER to use.

The waiting times are updated every 30 minutes and are defined as the time between entering the ER and receiving treatment from a physician, physician assistant or nurse practitioner.

Reston's ER medical director, Darren Lisse, stresses that the service is designed for folks with relatively minor medical conditions, such as a sprained ankle, and that anyone with chest pains or other potentially life-threatening problems should still call 911.

-- Rachel Saslow

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