Objectives: To determine which patient characteristics are associated with prolonged waiting times in the emergency department and which characteristics are associated with an increased risk of leaving without being seen.
Methods: Multivariate analysis of routine data collected at the Northern General Hospital, Sheffield between 1 January and 31 December 2001. Patient age, sex, triage priority, postcode, initiator of attendance, mode of arrival, time, day, and month of presentation were examined as potential predictors of waiting time and risk of leaving without being seen.
Results: Waiting time data for 71 331 patients were analysed, along with a further 5512 patients who left without being seen. Older patients and those with lower triage priority had longer waiting times, while ambulance borne patients had slightly shorter waiting times. Sex, source of referral, and postcode did not predict waiting times. The most powerful predictors of waiting time related to time of presentation, with longer waits being associated with presentation at night, on Mondays or Sundays, and during autumn months. Patients who left without being seen were more likely to be younger, male, lower triage priority, non-ambulance borne, self referred, and presenting at the times when waiting times were longest.
Conclusion: Time of presentation, rather than individual patient characteristics, seem to be the most powerful predictors of waiting time. This suggests that concerns about inequity of waiting times should be addressed by reorganisation of staff duty rosters.
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Conflicts of interest: none.