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Just A Minute: The Effect Of Emergency Department Wait Time On The Cost Of Care


  • Lindsey Woodworth
  • James F. Holmes


Wait times are rising in U.S. emergency departments (EDs). The longer a patient waits to be seen, the more their condition may worsen. Notably, patients in worse condition can cost more to care for. This study estimates the effect of ED wait time on the cost of care by exploiting the quasi‐random assignment of patients to triage nurses in an instrumental variables framework. The results suggest that prolonging the wait of a patient who arrives with a serious condition by 10 minutes will increase the hospital's cost to care for the patient by an average of 6%. The magnitude of this effect dissipates (fading to zero) among patients who arrive with less serious conditions.(JEL D24, H41, I10)

Suggested Citation

  • Lindsey Woodworth & James F. Holmes, 2020. "Just A Minute: The Effect Of Emergency Department Wait Time On The Cost Of Care," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 58(2), pages 698-716, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:ecinqu:v:58:y:2020:i:2:p:698-716
    DOI: 10.1111/ecin.12849

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    JEL classification:

    • D24 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Production; Cost; Capital; Capital, Total Factor, and Multifactor Productivity; Capacity
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General


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