Emergency department crowding is a significant issue that can have adverse consequences for patients, including increased wait times, delayed treatment, low-quality care and negative health outcomes. It is a common and complex issue in the national health care system that can often be prevented by recognizing and addressing contributing factors.
Potential Consequences of Emergency Department Overcrowding
Emergency departments need to be organized, properly staffed and have enough resources available to adequately address the needs of patients. Emergency department overcrowding can increase morbidity or mortality rates among patients.
Adverse effects of emergency department crowding include:
- Delayed care: abnormally long wait times that can delay patient care to a dangerous extent, such as for patients in need of treatment for life-threatening injuries. Delayed medical intervention can impact patient outcomes in critical and time-sensitive cases.
- Compromised patient health: overcrowded conditions can threaten the safety, health and well-being of patients. For example, a doctor could overlook and ignore a patient or make dangerous errors in a crowded, disorganized environment.
- Reduced patient satisfaction: unhappy, frustrated and dissatisfied patients who had negative experiences in an emergency department due to prolonged wait times, crowded waiting rooms or low-quality care from a medical professional.
- Provider burnout: overworked and fatigued medical professionals who experience burnout due to overcrowded working conditions. Emergency department crowding can contribute to increased stress and reduced job satisfaction.
Emergency department overcrowding can result in treating patients in settings that are not meant for patient care, such as hallways, waiting rooms and lounges. These areas are not equipped, designed or private enough for patient care. Not only does this diminishes the patient experience, but more importantly it can result in substandard care and adverse patient health outcomes.
How Can Emergency Department Crowding Be Prevented?
To operate safely, efficiently and correctly, hospitals and health systems must be proactive about preventing emergency department crowding. They should identify potential issues and implement solutions that address and prevent dysfunction within the department.
Solutions to overcrowding have been identified by hospital systems, such as:
- Reducing boarding times, or the amount of time in which a patient is kept in an emergency department after doctors have determined they should be admitted to the hospital.
- Ensuring that hospitals have flexible capacity to accept patients and provide beds without requiring long wait times or holding patients in emergency departments.
- Alleviating exit blocks (things that prevent patients from being discharged or admitted to a hospital) in a way that does not affect patient outcomes, such as streamlining process work.
Resolving emergency department crowding requires creative solutions that improve patients’ access to care. The failure to address overcrowding can increase the odds of medical malpractice, patient injuries and patient deaths.
Emergency Department Crowding and Medical Malpractice
Emergency departments provide lifesaving care to thousands of patients each year. Unfortunately, not all patients receive the care that they need and deserve due to issues such as overcrowding. It is a medical facility’s responsibility to identify potential issues that could affect patient outcomes, including overcrowding, and take steps to minimize them. Otherwise, patients can suffer the consequences.
If you or a loved one is a victim of emergency department crowding, you may be able to recover financial compensation from the responsible hospital and health system. Request a free case evaluation with a Philadelphia emergency room negligence attorney at Youman & Caputo at (215) 302-1999 for more information.