Timely access to care is a key component of high quality health care. Yet, patient delays are prevalent throughout the health-care system resulting in dissatisfaction and adverse clinical consequences for patients as well as potentially higher costs and wasted capacity for providers. For this reason, the Institute of Medicine has identified "timeliness" as one of the six keys in "aims for improvement" in its health-care quality initiative.
Arguably, the most critical delays for health care are the ones associated with health-care emergencies. Unfortunately, emergency department overcrowding is a continuing and growing problem. In a 2007 survey, nearly half of all U.S. hospitals and 65% of urban hospitals reported being at or over capacity in their emergency rooms, resulting in long waits before being seen by a physician and delays of many hours or even days in getting a hospital bed. Each of these sources of delay can be life-threatening.