Health Business Blog

Health care business consultant and policy expert David E. Williams share his views

10 (or 20) hour wait for a bed at Mass General

The front page of today’s Boston Globe has a picture of stretchers lined up in the hallway because the ER is overcrowded. It’s what we might expect after a natural disaster, but apparently this is business as usual at Mass General Hospital:

Typical is the situation recently at Massachusetts General Hospital… It was 1:30 pm on Thursday, and 20 patients in Mass. General’s emergency department needed to be admitted to the hospital for more extensive care. But the hospital had beds for only eight new patients. The electronic chart listed how long patients had been waiting for beds on a medical floor. The longest: two patients for 21 hours and one patient for 22 hours. A half-dozen recent arrivals were parked temporarily in hallways.

In classic fashion, hospital administrators say they’re doing all they can and need more capacity. Some hospitals in Boston are adding beds. Deep in the article there is a reference to Eugene Litvak, professor of healthcare and operations management at Boston University. He believes the problem is poor planning and I think he’s mostly right.

We wouldn’t expect factories to simply add new, expensive capacity as a first resort every time demand increases, and we shouldn’t expect it of hospitals either.