A hospital emergency room often brings up images of waiting around during a time of illness, pain or injury.
It's one of the areas many hospitals evaluate, striving to improve. That's the case throughout the Fox Valley, where data released by the federal government on the Medicare website shows some ER wait times are above state and national averages.
Using data provided by the hospitals themselves, the Medicare site tracks several aspects of hospital care, including the average number of minutes a patient spends in the ER waiting to be seen by certain healthcare professionals, including doctors or physicians' assistants. The data was compiled using figures from January through June of 2012.
The statewide average for Illinois was 32 minutes, while the national average was 29 minutes, according to the report. In the Fox Valley-Kane County area, Presence Mercy Medical Center in Aurora carried the highest average at 40 minutes. Not far behind was Delnor Hospital in Geneva at 37 minutes and Copley Memorial Hospital in Aurora at 36 minutes.
Presence St. Joseph Hospital in Elgin reported a wait time of 24 minutes and Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin recorded the lowest at 19 minutes. Other nearby hospitals included Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield with an average of 58 minutes, and Edward Hospital in Naperville recording just 11 minutes.
Brian Lemon, executive vice president of Cadence Health, which includes Delnor and Central DuPage, said there's already been improvement for both hospitals and there may be some misconceptions about what that data says.
He points out the figure measures the average amount of time a patient spends waiting for a doctor or physician's assistant, not before a patient is triaged. That's when a nurse makes an initial assessment of the patient, taking vital signs and other information.
Patients are then seen based on the nature and severity of the medical problem, Lemon said.
"That's one of the hardest things about this statistic," he said. "I do think many people are interpreting it as that's the first time we're seen by anybody."
Cadence tracks the average number of minutes a patient waits for triage at both its hospitals. At Delnor, it's six minutes, and at Central DuPage it's eight minutes, Lemon said.
Lemon also said the data reported by Medicare is outdated. Updated figures for Cadence hospitals – recorded in January through March of this year – are 28 minutes for Delnor and 25 minutes for Central DuPage, according to Lemon.
The sizable reduction for Central DuPage's figure could be due to the timing of the data during Medicare's recording period last year, Lemon said, when the hospital had just switched to a new electronic records system.
"For the first couple of months, the data we were reporting was not the time from when someone came through the door to when they were actually seen," he said. "It was the time that medical professional actually did their documentation in the chart."
Lemon credits a drive to improve with progress in other areas, including the reduction in waiting time at Delnor.
"This is one of the most important things we work on," he said. "How long it is taking us to take care of people, regardless of how they get here."
Barbara Fallon, spokeswoman for Mercy Hospital in Aurora, also said there has also been a movement to improve upon ER wait times there.
Part of a hospital-wide initiative that started in January includes a goal of reducing the 40-minute average figure as reported by Medicare down to 30 minutes, Fallon said.
To reach that goal, there are a number of ongoing ideas, she said, "things as simple as keeping a visual tracking chart to show where patients are and where they are in the patient flow."
Other improvements could include faster transport times to tests, how to arrange various medical equipment, and staff efficiency, Fallon said.
Teams of doctors and others who work in the ER gather regularly to discuss possible areas of to improve, she added.