Wait times in the emergency center

January 18, 2018

Emergency centers (ECs) are fully equipped to handle a variety of patients with a wide range of illnesses and injuries. However, its resources, including patient rooms, equipment and staff, can be overwhelmed by large volumes of patients arriving within a short time period, multiple high-acuity or extremely sick patients requiring emergent care all at once, high hospital occupancy, and lack of inpatient beds available for admitted EC patients, etc. The downhill effects of these oftentimes unpredictable and uncontrollable factors include crowded waiting rooms, prolonged wait times and extended EC visits. 

EC wait times are extremely fluctuant and are constantly changing. Because individual patient wait times are so dependent on other EC patients’ arrivals/acuity, wait times can increase or decrease without significant warning. Although EC staff may attempt to give an accurate wait time, those numbers are usually best estimates, especially since many of our EC patients arrive not only through the front doors, but also by ambulances/911 calls, and outside hospital transfers.

What if my child is getting sicker?

At all three of Texas Children’s Emergency Centers, in the Texas Medical Center, West Campus and The Woodlands, your child’s health and comfort is very important to us! If a waiting period is expected, our trained triage and protocol nurses may utilize pre-established protocols or standardized orders to help improve your child’s symptoms (i.e., Tylenol for fever) or facilitate the evaluation of your child (i.e., X-rays for a broken bone). Additionally, they will oftentimes reassess your child’s vital signs, signs/symptoms and response to therapy to ensure your child’s illness or injury is not worsening. 

However, if you ever feel your child is getting sicker (i.e., increased work of breathing, severe/unbearable pain, decreased responsiveness or difficult to awaken, seizure-like activity, etc.), please inform an EC staff member immediately. 

What should I bring to the EC?

Because it’s difficult to predict how long your child may wait before seeing a physician or medical provider, you may want to bring some toys/activities, comfort articles and snacks for you and your child/children. However, if your child has severe abdominal pain or potentially needs a procedure (such as stitches or a splint for a broken bone), please speak with one of the EC staff members before letting your child eat or drink.

Additionally, unless you go to a hospital where your child’s medical information is readily available (i.e., all Texas Children’s Hospital locations and Texas Children’s Pediatrics use the same electronic medical record system), many EC physicians cannot access your child’s medical information. So, when going to the EC, it’s very important to bring:

  • A copy of your child’s medical information (including past and current medical issues/diagnoses and surgical procedures)
  • Vaccination records
  • Medication and food allergies
  • Current medications (prescription and non-prescription)

Post by:

Katherine Jennifer Leaming-Van Zandt, MD

Dr. Katherine Leaming-Van Zandt is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at BCM and, an attending physician in the emergency centers of Texas Children's Hospital.  She also serves as the Medical Director of the TCH West Campus Emergency Center.  

Dr. Leaming-Van Zandt’s academic interests...

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