Billboards display wait times at 4 emergency rooms in valley

A billboard near the 215 Beltway and Eastern Avenue advertises a short wait time for emergency room care at Southern Hills Hospital on Thursday, April 11, 2013.

Driving around the valley, they are hard to miss: Billboards advertising emergency room wait times at Sunrise, Sunrise Children’s, MountainView and Southern Hills hospitals.

A digital screen flashes a number that represents the average wait at each hospital. Static posters instruct people to text “ER to 23000” to get information about wait times sent to a cellphone.

The facilities are owned by Nashville’s HCA Holdings, a for-profit health care giant.

The company runs similar ads online, including on VEGAS INC and the Las Vegas Sun’s websites.

HCA executives launched the texting campaign locally in November 2009 and posted the billboards in early 2010. The company now has about 20 billboard ads in the valley, said Stacy Acquista, assistant vice president of marketing for HCA’s Las Vegas hospital network, Sunrise Health.

The wait times are based on a four-hour rolling average and are updated every 30 minutes. They show the average time it takes for a patient to be seen by a physician or nurse practitioner after entering the ER.

Emergency rooms are a key source of business for hospitals. Sunrise and Sunrise Children’s expect to have 125,000 ER patient visits this year, up from a record 120,000 in 2012.

“Sometimes the ER that’s closest to you is not the ER that’s fastest for you,” Acquista said.

HCA, which has billboard ads across the country, first used wait time texting for a marketing campaign in South Florida. Anthony Baradat, the man behind that concept, later formed the Miami company ER Texting Inc. to work with other hospital groups, business development manager Carlos Blanco said.

Hospitals run the ads for several reasons. They help the facilities boost their visibility, make them more competitive with other hospitals and urgent care clinics, and improve patient satisfaction.

“Being transparent helps,” Blanco said. “Even if the wait time is not great.”

Tags: Business