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Yesterday, a group of Harvard doctors released a study that may have a bearing on medical malpractice cases. The study reveals that patients are now waiting longer in emergency rooms. The Wall Street Journal, which covered the study, wrote:

The median wait for adults rose to about 30 minutes in 2004 — meaning half waited more and half waited less — from 22 minutes in 1997, a 36% increase, according to a study scheduled for publication today by the journal Health Affairs. Heart-attack patients, meanwhile, had a median wait time of 20 minutes in 2004, up 150% from eight minutes in 1997.

The WSJ Health Blog, carrying a bit more detail, noted that a quarter of the patients presenting with heart attacks didn’t receive any care for more than 50 minutes. That’s particularly bad news considering that new research is showing that prompt attention can be the key in reducing death and brain damage in heart attack victims.

But the bad news didn’t stop there. Sadly, the study revealed that the wait was longest for black, hispanic, and urban patients.

From a medical malpractice and hospital administration perspective, the real question, which the study doesn’t appear to answer, is why are the times increasing? As more evidence shows the necessity of early intervention in heart attack patients, it would seem that the standard of care would evolve to reflect these findings. But instead, the industry norm is going the other way. Do hospitals need to change their triage procedures? Are they simply understaffed? These are the questions that will have to be answered in any additional study on the subject.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Medical Malpractice and Negligent Care.

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