Dignity Health in California and other health systems across the country are trying online booking for emergency rooms to alleviate wait times, according to an article on the MedCity News website.
Hospitals are hoping online appointments will attract patients eager to avoid long waits in a crowded and often chaotic environment.
"It makes for a happier camper," Susan Dubuque, a national expert in hospital marketing, said in the article. "When it comes to healthcare, consumers want more control over everything."
Emergency room appointments are not intended for patients with serious emergencies, the article said.
Some critics say the online check-in system may be convenient but is not necessarily cost-effective. It could encourage patients to seek care in the costliest of settings, emergency rooms, when they should be going to less-expensive urgent care centers or medical offices.
If the country wants to decrease health care costs, patients need to be treated at the right place at the right time, said Del Morris, president of the California Academy of Family Physicians. Patients who can make appointments should do so at their doctors' offices, he said.
"This sounds like it is the most expensive place," said Morris, medical director of the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency. "Emergency rooms are there to take care of people who have emergencies."