The rate at which emergency departments have been crowding has grown twice as rapidly as the amount of total visits have increased. The nature of activities in the ED is mostly to blame, while the increase is feared to "rise to unsustainable proportions."
The numbers were reported in the Annals of Emergency Medicine earlier last month. Between 2001 and 2008, ED crowding -- or occupancy: the total number of patients at a time, nationwide -- grew 3.1%. ED visits, however, increased only 1.9%. These visits increased, in turn, 60% faster than did population growth.
The fact that patients are staying for longer in EDs for more treatment contributes to the phenomenon. Patients are often attended to with blood tests, x-rays, fluid work, and other procedures. ED personnel usually practice defensive medicine, which takes some time.
Another factor is the role of advanced technology, which can treat the most difficult illnesses, but more often leave discharged patients vulnerable to further illness. These patients tend to require more attention and resources.
For other patients, the ED has become a rapid diagnostic center, but the fact that they run so many tests keeps the patients longer. On the other hand, if diagnostic thoroughness helps to prevent later hospitalization, this may be a good thing -- if only the problem of crowding was not so heavily hanging over the medical community.
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