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Keywords:

  • emergency admissions;
  • elective waiting times;
  • public hospitals;
  • equity

ABSTRACT

An average patient waits between 2 and 3 months for an elective procedure in Australian public hospitals. Approximately 60% of all admissions occur through an emergency department, and bed competition from emergency admission provides one path by which waiting times for elective procedures may be lengthened. In this article, we investigated the extent to which public hospital waiting times are affected by the volume of emergency admissions and whether there is a differential impact by elective patient payment status. The latter has equity implications if the potential health cost associated with delayed treatment falls on public patients with lower ability to pay. Using annual data from public hospitals in the state of New South Wales, we found that, for a given available bed capacity, a one standard deviation increase in a hospital's emergency admissions lengthens waiting times by 19 days on average. However, paying (private) patients experience no delay overall. In fact, for some procedures, higher levels of emergency admissions are associated with lower private patient waiting times. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.