ORANGE COUNTY: Chapman ER Guarantees On-Time Care
In an innovative new marketing ploy hoisted from Domino's pizza delivery, Chapman Medical Center's emergency room is guaranteeing that a patient will be seen by a doctor or nurse within 15 minutes or their visit is free. The Orange County Register reports that the move reflects the ultra-competitive nature of the hospital business in Orange County, where Chapman "competes with five other hospitals within a 10-mile radius." Furthermore, managed care's move to rein in ER costs has driven down the county's emergency visits by 7% a year. The hospital is promoting the ER guarantee concept with posters and newspaper ads and has provided its nurses beepers to help meet the time requirement. "Since the hospital began its pledge Feb. 1, it has seen patient visits increase slightly, said CEO Maxine Cooper, yet has met the 15-minute deadline on every visit." Dr. Ian Cummings, of the 1,600-member National Association of Emergency Physicians, "praised Chapman's approach." He said, "[W]e're treating our population more like a business, viewing our patients as customers."
A Hollow Promise?
Mark Langdorf, ER Director of rival UCI Medical Center, "says the 15-minute guarantee is nothing special," because it only requires that a patient see a nurse for preliminary evaluation, called triage. But his Chapman counterpart, Dr. Peter Anderson, responded that "90% of its patients are actually examined by a physician within the first 15 minutes. And most, he said, are settled in an ER bed even before they fill out their paperwork." Meanwhile, "[a]t least one professional society," the 2,000-member American Academy of Emergency Medicine, is concerned that the time guarantee "reeks of questionable professional ethics" (Gordon, 2/27).