Making an appointment for the emergency room a growing trend

Los Angeles Times | Eight Southern California hospitals have signed up for a system called InQuickER that lets patients pay a fee of $14.99 to $24.99 to set up an appointment online for emergency care. If they’re not seen within 15 minutes, they get their money back.

Lakewood Regional Medical Center last week joined a small but growing number of Southern California hospitals that allow patients to make emergency room appointments online. In exchange for a fee, instead of sitting in a waiting room wondering how long they’ll have to wait, users can show up at the assigned time with the assurance they will be seen within 15 minutes or get their money back.

In a region where it’s routine for emergency room patients at public hospitals to wait half a day or longer to be treated — depending on the complaint — some say the move makes “good business sense.”

“It does not interfere with treating true emergencies on a priority basis; and charging a modest fee discourages tampering,” said Jim Lott, spokesman for the Southern California Hospital Assn., of offering appointments to patients who want to use emergency rooms for “an urgent, but non-emergency condition.”

Fees for the service, called InQuickER, range from $14.99 to $24.99 and are in addition to other costs for the emergency room visit. Officials at the Nashville-based company said that since the system was launched in 2006, 95% of appointments have been kept successfully. Patients must be 18 or older to make an appointment. Those with life-threatening symptoms such as chest pains are told to proceed directly to the emergency room.

The system is in use at 15 hospitals and urgent care centers in seven other states. Locally, eight hospitals — five of which are owned by Dallas-based Tenet Healthcare Corp. — have adopted the service in the last year.

Critics, however, worry that letting people pay to secure appointments may just encourage patients who do not need immediate care to use emergency rooms anyway.

Doctors at hospitals that take appointments say patient satisfaction is higher and that lowering the time spent in an ER reduces the risk of infections spreading in the waiting room.

“InQuickER users are not skipping the line in front of everyone else,” said Chris Song, a company spokesman. “They’re simply waiting somewhere other than the waiting room.”

As of Friday, only one patient had made an appointment at Lakewood Regional, where the average wait at the 14-bed emergency room is about 20 minutes, but sometimes lasts up to two hours.

Hospital officials agreed to pay $3,000 a month for the service. They charge patients $14.99 and expect to recoup that money over time as appointments increase, said spokesman Patrick Houston. One appointment is available each hour, and patients reserve an appointment at least two hours in advance. Houston said the hope is that offering appointments will attract more patients with private insurance.


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