Our Practice Areas

Study shows patients visiting crowded ERs more likely to die

Long lines are typical in most emergency rooms. The minute someone walks into the ER with a health problem, there's most likely a long line of ill or injured individuals in front of them waiting to see a doctor. Today, the average emergency room wait time is almost 1 hour. In 2003 the average waiting period was about 46 minutes.

When a person is in need of immediate medical attention, there's typically no other choice but to wait for medical care and treatment. However, individuals waiting to be treated in certain emergency rooms may find themselves in worse shape after they are seen.

A new study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine-the official journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians-demonstrates that packed emergency room departments are actually hazardous to a person's health.

The study

The study, conducted by Oregon Health and Sciences University, observed patients who visited California emergency room departments in 2007. They compared the patients who visited ERs that were busy to patients who visited visiting ERs that were not so busy.

The results revealed that patients who visited emergency rooms that were crowded had longer hospital stays, and higher medical bills. Additionally, the results showed that they were also 5 percent more likely to die in the hospital once they were admitted than patients who were admitted after receiving treatment at ERs that weren't so busy.

Reasons behind the statistic

According to lead researcher Benjamin Sun, the data directly correlates to the time of treatment available to patients waiting to see a doctor for their health condition. The article attributes the statistic to delays in treatment. He says that literature has "demonstrated the negative effect of ED crowding including delays in the treatment of myocardial infarction, pneumonia, and painful conditions."

Additionally, crowded ERs simply increase the risk of potential medical errors. The more patients to see, the more likely a busy doctor will rush and is more likely to make mistakes. For instance, a doctor may fail to diagnose a patient's condition and simply write a prescription and send him or her out the door without properly ordering necessary tests.

It remains to be seen whether ER wait times will continue to rise in the U.S. In just over 5 years ago, the average wait time has risen 15 minutes. As healthcare costs continue to rise and resources are strained, it's likely wait times will increase in the future and threaten the health of future ER patients.