Emergency rooms are notorious for unpredictable—if not excruciatingly long—wait times. But when you're in the throes of a medical emergency, you don't exactly have the time to call up every hospital in the area for a traffic report. Fortunately, ProPublica has just announced a new tool that could make two-hour-long surprise wait times a thing of the past.

The interactive map, dubbed ER Wait Watcher, allows you to see either the average wait time per state or, by inputting your current address, which emergency room will place you into a doctor's tender, loving hands the fastest. Pulling the hospitals' self-reported data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Er Wait Watcher is able to show you how long it takes for patients to both see an actual doctor and be sent home—including how many get sent home without ever being seen in the first place. The app even takes real time Google traffic reports into account, so when you enter your current address, you'll know exactly how long you have until you'll be seeing any treatment.


Of course, time is not the only indicator of good care, and the app accounts for that by including patient satisfaction scores along with links to inspection reports if you're especially concerned. But hat's assuming you have time to read through all that supplementary info; in a real life-threatening emergency, that probably isn't going to be case. And ProPublica is fully aware of the fact that, while ER Wait Watcher can be a handy tool, it is by no means appropriate in every situation, noting:

If you think you're having a heart attack, or if you've suffered a serious injury, you should not use ER Wait Watcher. Please call 911. The ambulance will take you to the closest hospital, and won't be as affected by traffic because it can speed and run red lights.


So yes, if you think you or someone around you is in near death, please for the love of god hit 911 before you pull up a browser. But otherwise, Er Wait Watcher could save us all some serious (emotional and physical) pain. [ProPublica via Digg]