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Broken Bone? How Long You'll Wait for Pain Meds at Virginia Hospital Center

Virginia Hospital Center's Emergency Department is faster than other area hospital ERs on a variety of measurements, according to a new federal study.

If you go to the emergency room at Virginia Hospital Center with a broken bone, how long will it take before you get pain medicine? 

The federal government says 40 minutes on average — much faster than the national average of 62 minutes, according to hospital comparison statistics available through Medicare.gov, and one of the lowest averages in Northern Virginia.

At Inova Mount Vernon, the wait could be 73 minutes. At Inova Alexandria the wait could be 56 minutes, and out at Inova Fairfax the wait could be 50 minutes.

That’s just one new key measure of ER efficiency that has been posted online from hospitals taking part in this data initiative, according to a report by former San Diego Union-Tribune writer Cheryl Clark, now senior quality editor for HealthLeaders Media.

“With precious little fanfare, Uncle Sam last month rolled out a big, fat database with seven measures comparing a service that many people — healthcare providers and patients alike — consider the most critical any hospital can provide,” Clark wrote recently.

The database showed that the Virginia Hospital Center ER is better than the national average at providing effective heart attack care, effective pneumonia care and timely and effective surgical care.

The average time patients spend in the ER before they were admitted to Virginia Hospital Center as an inpatient is also lower than the national and Virginia averages, as is the amount of time a patient spends in the emergency department before being seen by a healthcare professional.

In late 2012, the Virginia Hospital Center was recognized as an Emergency Center of Excellence — something only a handful of ERs nationwide received.

Factors that Play Into Wait Times

Of course, much of this depends on time of day and day of the week you are visiting the emergency department, as any ER doctor can tell you. Friday and Saturday nights tend to be busy, for example.

Data collected in 2011 and early 2012 also tracked how long it took for an ER patient to be seen by a healthcare professional and how long the wait was to get a bed if they needed admission. Other data showed how long patients spent in the ER before being sent home, whether they received a brain scan if they might have suffered a stroke, how many heart attack patients received aspirin and how quick, and more.

Clark interviewed Dr. Jesse Pines, an emergency room doctor and researcher who directs the center for healthcare quality at George Washington University — where the broken bone-pain medication wait time is almost double the national average at 110 minutes.

“The theory is that when hospitals report this information, it makes them focus on it, and improve throughout their (Emergency Department),” Pines told her.

“But it’s very hard to do. Certain performance measures are easier to fix — like simple process measures like giving patients an aspirin — than improving ED throughput, which involves development of interdisciplinary teams.”

How to do Your Own ER Comparison

In any case, Northern Virginia residents can compare the ER care at Virginia Hospital Center with other local hospitals in the national database by following these steps:

First go to the Hospital Compare website. Then type in your ZIP code, city or local hospital. When a list of hospitals is displayed, put a checkmark next to two or three hospitals.

Scroll down and click the yellow "Compare Now" button to display more details. Then click "Timely and Effecive Care."

Finally, scroll down to the "Timely Emergency Department Care" section, where a green button allows you to view more details.

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