Without question, Mississippi's busiest emergency department is at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Doctors see in the neighborhood of 80,000 patients a year.
"Adult patients, we see around 200 to 300 a day," according to Dr. Alan Jones, chairman of the UMMC Department of Emergency Medicine.
Dr. Jones says the average Mississippi patient wait time of 32 minutes, as published by the non-profit, Propublica, is much more complex than an average number. That's because he calls the emergency room a safety net, not a first come, first serve operation.
"Emergent patients, we see immediately. There is no wait time. People who have less urgent or minor conditions might wait longer," said Jones. "All of my doctors would prefer there would never be a wait. We want the ability to see patients and get them where they need to go."
Dr. Jones said that's among the primary reasons for an expansion and renovation to the current emergency department. He says it's past time to resolve problems with overcrowding and wait times in the E-R.
"We are redesigning our processes so that our wait times will diminish and we'll be able to offer that service to the patients that they want," added Dr. Jones.
ER wait times also tend to reflect population density. For instance, looking at the average wait times at hospitals in the Jackson Metro, it will take about 96 minutes to see a doctor at Baptist Medical Center, 41 minutes at Central Mississippi Medical Center, 45 minutes at River Oaks, 57 minutes at St. Dominic's and 53 minutes, according to the report, for UMMC.
While trips to the E-R are rarely planned, you can take control to some degree. There's a site on the Internet where you can type in the city and state and get an idea of what the wait times are at various hospitals throughout the area. You can access the site here.
Until many of those problems can be ironed out, Dr. Jones has this advice for patients to keep in mind.
"The real value of an E-R is they can save your life, assess, diagnose and treat limb or life-threatening conditions," said Dr. Jones. "The real value an E-R can bring is they can save your life. Often times, we treat things that aren't life threatening because some patients don't have anywhere else to go. And that's part of our job."
Dr. Jones says his emergency room also follows a pattern.
"We know that Mondays and Tuesdays are our busiest days." It tails off on Wednesday and Thursday and then, picks back up on the weekends," added Dr. Jones. "Time of day is another thing. Early in the morning, 3 AM to 7 AM, tend to be our slower times and at about 8 AM it starts to ramp up all the way until 8 PM."