Crowded ERs May Come With Health Risks


Every person who has been to the emergency room knows how long they have to wait to be treated. The overcrowding in emergency rooms is not just inconvenient for people waiting to be treated but it may also be harmful to the patients. One study found that the busiest days in emergency rooms have higher impatient mortality risk and higher costs. This may mean that patients could find themselves receiving reduced levels of care, increased likelihood of medical malpractice, and doctor error.

This study found that when the emergency room was so full that ambulances were turned away, there was a five percent greater risk of death prior to discharge than patients who were admitted at other, less busy times. Patients admitted during busier times tended to face longer stays and higher costs for their admission. The creators of this study claim that the study provides additional evidence that emergency room crowding indicates decreasing quality of care for all patients who may require admission to the hospital.

They also believe that this finding strengthens the argument that the practice of emergency room boarding, having patients stay in the emergency room until hospital beds in other departments become available, should end. This practice prevents providing immediate care to incoming patients.

There are many possible reasons as to why busy emergency rooms pose such a health risk. A delay in care that is necessary in cases such as heart attacks when timely care is important is one possible risk. Also, attention may be taken away from patients already boarded in the emergency room by the evaluation of new patients. Other reasons for delay in care are understaffing in emergency rooms with fewer doctors than they need, while the number of patient is larger and sicker than it used to be.

With so many patients to care for doctors are more likely to make mistakes. Emergency room physicians and nurses have reported that they sometime have a hard time remembering details about individual patients. This makes it more likely that mistakes, such as overlooking a symptom, misreading a report, or prescribing the wrong drug, will be made. This opens the door for patients injured because of emergency room overcrowding to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

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