Texting your emergency room for wait times

These days people are texting for everything...including emergency room wait times.
Written by Denise Amrich, Contributor

These days people are texting for everything...including emergency room wait times. This makes sense, especially when it comes to making sure they can get their kids seen as fast as possible when accidents happen. Earlier this month, another major children's hospital elected to begin posting its urgent care center wait times for parents to access via their cell phones.

ER Texting recently launched its services at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Medical Center (CCHMC), in order to provide their service to parents of children visiting urgent care facilities.

The way it works is that parents can now text "ccurgent" to 4ER411 and instantly receive the current wait times, hours of operation and direct contact information for the CCHMC Anderson, Fairfield and Mason urgent care facilities.

Kurt Myers, Coordinator of Community Relations at CCHMC says, "When examining how to reach our patients and families, we knew we would have to meet them in the mobile space. Providing an option to receive wait times via text was a logical first step into the mobile arena. Arming patients with information is one of the key components to achieving high patient satisfaction scores. We want our patients and families to know what to expect when coming to one of our urgent care centers. Additionally, the service allows families to self-select which of our three locations they want to visit, helping control patient flow."

The ability to control patient flow organically in this way by helping people self-select which emergency facility to rush to definitely seems like it would benefit the facilities. According to ER Texting's FAQ, there may be other benefits as well. Their FAQ says the database they'll build from this activity "can later be used by the participating hospital for extremely cost-effective outbound marketing."

I'm not sure how I feel about that marketing part, but I guess there's always a price for convenience. I also find myself wondering if one can truly rely on the texted wait times, and concerned about whether the distraction of trying to text will get in the way of addressing the emergency. In the case of a true emergency, remember 911 is your friend, and an ambulance is a good idea.

Miami Children's Hospital (MCH), who originally implemented the ER Texting service in May 2011 (text "MCH" to 4ER411), has seen over 2,000 subscribers use the service to obtain current wait times at the MCH Doral, Kendall, Palmetto Bay and Weston urgent care facilities.

Marcia Diaz de Villegas, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at MCH says, "By marketing our live wait times, the hospital took a risk. The texting service demanded more transparency from the hospital. In the end, it was a win for all, as patients are now getting more information and are able to make better decisions."

The MCH urgent care texting and marketing campaign seems to have been a success, realizing a year-to-year increase of over 11% in urgent care traffic, while providing improved patient experiences. Eventually, the hospital does have plans to utilize its mobile consumer database for proactive outbound communication with its patients.

One thing to be aware of is that this service isn't available everywhere yet, nor is it a foregone conclusion that it will be. If you happen to live in Miami and Cincinnati, this might be a great solution for you.

After watching the promotional video on the company's website which suggested you text your zip code to 4ER411, I tried it on my phone. I texted with several zip codes, in my local areas and in other major metropolitan areas, and received error messages.

However, this did lead me to the thought that my own local hospitals might offer a similar information service, and that a fact finding mission might be in order. I'm going to give them a call, on their non-emergency information number during regular office hours, and ask them what resources they offer. The best time to prepare for an emergency is way before it happens.

Does your emergency room offer a text messaging service? Have you used one? Please let us know in the TalkBacks below.

Editorial standards