A Profile of Indian Health Service Emergency Departments

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Study objective:

The Indian Health Service provides health care to eligible American Indians and Alaskan Natives. No published data exist on emergency services offered by this unique health care system. We seek to determine the characteristics and capabilities of Indian Health Service emergency departments (EDs).


All Indian Health Service EDs were surveyed about demographics and operational characteristics for 2014 with the National Emergency Department Inventory survey (available at http://www.emnet-nedi.org/).


Of the forty eligible sites, there were 34 respondents (85% response rate). Respondents reported a total of 637,523 ED encounters, ranging from 521 to 63,200 visits per site. Overall, 85% (95% confidence interval 70% to 94%) had continuous physician coverage. Of all physicians staffing the ED, a median of 13% (interquartile range 0% to 50%) were board certified or board prepared in emergency medicine. Overall, 50% (95% confidence interval 34% to 66%) of respondents reported that their ED was operating over capacity.


Indian Health Service EDs varied widely in visit volume, with many operating over capacity. Most were not staffed by board-certified or -prepared emergency physicians. Most lacked access to specialty consultation and telemedicine capabilities.

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