Timeliness is the health care system's capacity to provide health care quickly after a need is recognized. Timeliness is one of the six dimensions of quality established by the Institute of Medicine as a priority for improvement in the health care system.1 Measures of timeliness include waiting time spent in doctors' offices and emergency departments (EDs) and the interval between identifying a need for specific tests and treatments and actually receiving those services.
Getting Care for Illness or Injury As Soon As Wanted
A patient's primary care provider should be the point of first contact for most illnesses and injuries. The ability of patients to receive treatment for illness and injury in a timely fashion is a key element in a patient-focused health care system.
Figure 4.1. Adults age 18 and over who reported sometimes or never getting care for illness or injury as soon as wanted in the past year, by age group, 2000-2003
Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, 2000-2003.
Reference population: U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population age 18 and over.
Figure 4.2. Parents who reported that their children sometimes or never got care for illness or injury as soon as wanted in the past year, 2001-2003
Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, 2001-2003.
Reference population: U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population under age 18.
- From 2000 to 2003, the percentage of adults who reported that they sometimes or never got care for illness or injury as soon as wanted during the previous 12 months did not change significantly overall or for any age group (Figure 4.1).
- In all 4 data years, the proportion of adults who reported that they sometimes or never got care for illness or injury as soon as wanted was lower among those ages 45 to 64 and age 65 and older compared with those ages 18 to 44.
- Among children who had appointments reported for illness or injury during the previous 12 months, 9.1% sometimes or never got care as soon as wanted in 2003 (Figure 4.2). This rate did not change significantly between 2001 and 2003.
- From 2001 to 2003, there was no significant difference on this measure between the children ages 0-5 and children ages 6-17 (data not shown).
Emergency Department Visits in Which the Patient Left Without Being Seen
In 2001, patients visiting emergency departments in the United States spent an average of 3.2 hours waiting to be seen. This may be a result of the 20% increase in ED visit volumes over a 10-year period as the number of ED facilities decreased by 15%.14 Although there are many reasons that may lead a patient seeking care in a hospital emergency department to leave without being seen, long waits tend to exacerbate this problem.
Figure 4.3. Emergency department visits in which the patient left without being seen, 1997-1998, 1999-2000, 2001-2002, and 2003-2004
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 1997-1998, 1999-2000, 2001-2002, and 2003-2004.
Denominator: Visits to emergency departments of general and short-stay hospitals.
- From 1997-1998 to 2003-2004, the overall percentage of emergency department visits in which the patient left before being seen increased from 1.2% to 1.8% (Figure 4.3).
Time to Initiation of Thrombolytic Therapy for Heart Attack Patients
The capacity to treat hospital patients in a timely fashion is especially important for emergency situations such as heart attacks. For patients suffering from a heart attack, early interventions—such as percutaneous coronary stenting and thrombolytic therapy—may reduce heart muscle damage and save lives.15
Figure 4.4. Median time (minutes) from arrival of Medicare heart attack patients to initiation of thrombolytic therapy, 2000-2004
Source: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Medicare Quality Improvement Organization Program, 2000-2004.
Denominator: Medicare beneficiaries meeting all of the following criteria: (1) principal diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction; (2) ST segment elevation or left bundle branch block on the electrocardiogram performed closest to hospital arrival; and (3) thrombolytic therapy during the hospital stay.
Note: This measure is assessed for patients with ST segment elevation or left bundle branch block on the electrocardiogram performed closest to the hospital arrival time.
- Among heart attack patients with Medicare, the median time from hospital arrival to the initiation of thrombolytic therapy was 49.8 minutes in 2004, compared with 43.0 minutes in 2000/2001, an increase of nearly 7 minutes (Figure 4.4).
- The median time to the initiation of therapy with thrombolytic agents remains well above the national target of 30 minutes.16
1. Institute of Medicine. Crossing the quality chasm: a new health system for the 21st century. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2001; pp. 53-54.
2. Leddy KM, Kaldenberg DO, Becker BW. Timeliness in ambulatory care treatment. An examination of patient satisfaction and wait times in medical practices and outpatient test and treatment facilities. J Ambul Care Manage 2003 Apr-Jun; 26(2):138-49.
3. Boudreau RM, McNally C, Rensing EM, et al. Improving the timeliness of written patient notification of mammography results by mammography centers. Breast J 2004 Jan-Feb; 10(1):10-9.
4. Schellinger PD, Warach S. Therapeutic time window of thrombolytic therapy following stroke. Curr Atheroscler Rep 2004 Jul; 6(4):288-94.
5. Kwan J, Hand P, Sandercock P. Improving the efficiency of delivery of thrombolysis for acute stroke: a systematic review. QJM 2004 May; 97(5):273-9.
6. Kinchen KS, Sadler J, Fink N, et al. The timing of specialist evaluation in chronic kidney disease and mortality. Ann Intern Med 2002 Sep 17;137(6):479-86.
7. Luman ET, Barker LE, Shaw KM, et al. Timeliness of childhood vaccinations in the United States: days undervaccinated and number of vaccines delayed. JAMA 2005 Mar 9;293(10):1204-11.
8. Houck PM, Bratzler DW. Administration of first hospital antibiotics for community-acquired pneumonia: does timeliness affect outcomes? Curr Opin Infect Dis 2005 Apr; 18(2):151-6.
9. Himelhoch S, Weller WE, Wu AW, et al. Chronic medical illness, depression, and use of acute medical services among Medicare beneficiaries. Med Care 2004 Jun;42(6):512-21.
10. Caro JJ, Ward AJ, O'Brien JA. Lifetime costs of complications resulting from type 2 diabetes in the U.S. Diabetes Care 2002 Mar; 25(3):476-81.
11. Ramsey SD, Newton K, Blough D, et al. Patient-level estimates of the cost of complications in diabetes in a managed-care population. Pharmacoeconomics 1999 Sep;16(3):285-95.
12. Mellon M, Parasuraman B. Pediatric asthma: improving management to reduce cost of care. J Manag Care Pharm 2004 Mar-Apr; 10(2):130-41.
13. Calculated from: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project. 2003 Kids' Inpatient Database. Available at: http://hcup.ahrq.gov/HCUPnet.asp.
14. McCaig LF, Burt CW. National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2002 emergency department summary. Adv Data 2004 Mar 18;(340):1-34.
15. Kloner RA, Rezkalla SH. Cardiac protection during acute myocardial infarction: where do we stand in 2004? J Am Coll Cardiol 2004 Jul 21;44(2):276-86.
16. Antman EM, Anbe DT, Armstrong PW, et al. ACC/AHA guidelines for the management of patients with ST-elevation myocardial infarction—executive summary: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing Committee to Revise the 1999 Guidelines for the Management of Patients With Acute Myocardial Infarction). Circulation 2004 Aug 3; 110(5):588-636.