The influence of crowding on clinical practice in the emergency department

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Abstract

Background:

This study aimed to clarify the association between the crowding and clinical practice in the emergency department (ED).

Methods:

This 1-year retrospective cohort study conducted in two EDs in Taiwan included 70,222 adult non-trauma visits during the day shift between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012. The ED occupancy status, determined by the number of patients staying during their time of visit, was used to measure crowding, grouped into four quartiles, and analyzed in reference to the clinical practice. The clinical practices included decision-making time, patient length of stay, patient disposition, and use of laboratory examinations and computed tomography (CT).

Result:

The four quartiles of occupancy statuses determined by the number of patients staying during their time of visit were < 24, 24–39, 39–62, and > 62. Comparing > 62 and < 24 ED occupancy statuses, the physicians' decision-making time and patients' length of stay increased by 0.3 h and 1.1 h, respectively. The percentage of patients discharged from the ED decreased by 15.5% as the ED observation, general ward, and intensive care unit admissions increased by 10.9%, 4%, and 0.7%, respectively. CT and laboratory examination slightly increased in the fourth quartile of ED occupancy.

Conclusion:

Overcrowding in the ED might increase physicians' decision-making time and patients' length of stay, and more patients could be admitted to observation units or an inpatient department. The use of CT and laboratory examinations would also increase. All of these could lead more patients to stay in the ED.

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