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ER wait times on your cell

St. Joseph Hospital

St. Joseph Hospital

If you think you’ve just broken your arm, and you want to know how long you’ll be in pain before a medical professional in the emergency room can see you — even before you get to the hospital — St. Joseph Medical Center has a smartphone application for you.

The Towson hospital has launched a new service that lets soon-to-arrive patients get an estimated wait time as well as directions sent to their mobile devices.

Patients in need of emergency care can enter their phone number on the St. Joseph’s website and a link will pop up on the smartphone allowing them to bookmark the site, see the wait time and then enter in the quickest route to the emergency room using the phone’s GPS mapping software.

“This is a convenience for the community,” Dr. Neal Frankel, an ER physician with St. Joseph Medical Center, said. “It will give you the time it will take to see a health care professional — usually a triage nurse.”

The St. Joseph’s application is not a dedicated application like those available in the Apple, Android or Blackberry app stores.

A check of the site at 5 p.m. on Monday showed the estimated wait time to see a health care professional in the emergency room was seven minutes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said the national average ER wait time is one hour. The average wait at St. Joseph until care begins is 14 minutes, the hospital says.

The site is updated every half hour with the estimated time before a patient is seen by medical staff — registered nurse, doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner.

“This will be really nice for someone who has had something happen while they’re out, like an ankle injury at a soccer game, and they just want to find out who can see them the quickest,” Franklin said. “Obviously, with serious injuries, people should still call 9-1-1.”

In Maryland, Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin has an iPhone “app” available for free through Apple’s iTunes store. This gives patients wait times for emergency room, X-rays and lab services.

A number of emergency rooms use billboards, websites and mobile phone apps in an attempt to cut down on patient wait times, which have gone up according to a recent study. Maryland ranked 45th for the average number of minutes spent in U.S. emergency departments in 2009, according to Press Ganey Associates Inc., an Indiana-based hospital consulting firm. The firm said the average time spent in emergency departments in 2009 was four hours and seven minutes, a four-minute increase.

The report said emergency rooms face increased pressure as their numbers decline and demand increased. Press Ganey reported that from 1990 to 2008 the number of annual emergency department visits in the U.S. rose from 90 million to 123 million, amounting to about 41 visits per 100 people.