Website data for some Ga. hospitals are flat wrong

One thousand, one hundred and fifteen minutes.

That’s 18.5 hours.

It’s not much time in the grand scheme of things. But it’s a very long time for a person who arrives in an ER to have to wait before being sent home.

The 1,115-minute figure is reported on a public federal website as the average time an emergency room patient waits at Archbold Medical Center in Thomasville before being sent home. The national average is just 140 minutes.

Archbold is also reported to have an average wait time for an emergency department patient to see a health care professional as 1,022 minutes. The national average is 30 minutes.

These figures on Archbold are alarming. But perhaps more alarming is that they are in error.

As first reported by HealthLeaders Media’s Cheryl Clark, there are grossly inflated — and incorrect — numbers about several Georgia hospitals’ emergency room care on Hospital Compare, a website run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as a tool to help consumers pick a hospital.

Georgia Hospital Association admits responsibility for the error, saying the arrival times of the ER patients were wrongly coded.

But CMS officials told GHN on Tuesday that they’re not changing the numbers.

As part of the range of statistics on hospital quality, federal officials recently started reporting emergency room waiting times. One goal of that is to discourage hospitals from “boarding’’ patients for hours in hallways before admitting or releasing them, Clark reported.

Archbold Medical Center told GHN on Tuesday that its correct average wait time for an ER patient before discharge is 238 minutes, and for a patient to see a health professional, 135 minutes. Those real waiting times have decreased since the opening of a new facility, said Archbold official Mark Lowe.

The other Georgia hospitals with wildly exaggerated wait times listed are Memorial Hospital of Adel; North Georgia Medical Center in Ellijay; Berrien County Hospital in Nashville; Southeast Georgia Health System’s Brunswick and Camden hospitals; McDuffie Regional Medical Center in Thomson; Burke Medical Center in Waynesboro; Chatuge Regional Hospital in Hiawassee; Newton Medical Center in Covington; and Jeff Davis Hospital in Hazlehurst.

Long waiting times in hospital emergency departments can increase risks for patients, especially those who have serious illnesses, CMS’s website says. Waiting times at different hospitals can vary widely, depending on the number of patients seen, ED staffing, efficiency, admission procedures, or the availability of inpatient beds, the federal site adds.

GHA, which assists hospitals with their data submissions for accreditation and reporting purposes, has sent a letter to CMS asking for the erroneous data to be removed or at least annotated, and hopes to hear back from the federal agency soon.

“Quite simply, we made a mistake,’’ said GHA Vice President Kevin Bloye.

When the hospital association, in submitting the data, found an ER “Arrival Time’’ was blank, it inserted zeroes into the empty field. The CMS system, though, reads such a field labeled 0:00 as indicating the patient arrived at a hospital ER at midnight.

CMS, in an email statement from a spokesman, told GHN on Tuesday that it’s not changing the numbers.

“It’s the hospitals’ responsibility to review their preview reports before we make the data public,’’ said Don McLeod, the CMS spokesman. “It’s also the hospitals’ responsibility to assure the data they are sending us are correct.’’

In this first round of ED reports, hospitals voluntarily submitted their times for each of seven measures of care provided between Jan. 1 and March 31 of 2012, according to Clark’s article. Data were submitted to CMS as part of a federal pay-for-reporting initiative.

If hospitals volunteer their data, they receive more money — another 2 percent of Medicare’s market payment update for the hospital’s ambulatory care.

Bloye said to HealthLeaders Media, “Any time you put information on a federal website geared to help patients make decisions, and it’s not correct, and it makes you look a lot worse than you are, it’s safe to say [hospitals are] not pleased, and rightfully so.”

He told GHN that even when new ER data are submitted, the figures for the 11 Georgia hospitals will still be skewed because the updated times will be averaged in with the old, erroneous numbers.