We've all read that hospital emergency rooms have become the primary care physicians of choice for many of the millions of uninsured in America. "The Waiting Room" takes us beyond the reports and right into the reality.

The documentary captures 24 hours in the life of the Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif. The public hospital specializes in serving patients without health insurance. In that one-day period, 241 patients are seen.

While some lost their health insurance along with their jobs, others seem to have made the choice not to purchase it. But they all have one thing in common: They will wait a long time to get medical attention.

On screen
'The Waiting Room'
2.5 out of 4 stars
Director: Peter Nicks
Rated: Not rated
Running time: 81 minutes

We first meet one of the people that the patients first meet: the intake worker. She insists not only on keeping her own mood up, but that of those looking for care, as when she reprimands a father for talking about his worries right in front of his young daughter. One of the doctors admits a lot of his colleagues chose this specialty because of the television series "ER." But many of the patients aren't really there for emergencies. The doctor feels that filling routine prescriptions is just as important an opportunity for preventing illness.

That seems unlikely when we see nurses talking about the guy who waited seven hours to get a prescription for Tylenol. It's cases like this that have helped send health care costs through the roof.

"The Waiting Room" is an important look into what is fast becoming one of our most important institutions. But that's all it is -- a glimpse. Director Peter Nicks is a reporter with a good eye; he's a former staff producer for ABC News.

But showing us the problem is not enough. The issues here are so many and so varied that there's not even a hint of how to solve them. We didn't really need an hour and a half of waiting room footage to tell us something we probably already knew. But we could use that time to think about how such a sickness can be remedied. If it can be remedied at all.