The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake: impact on hospital patient care

Ann Emerg Med. 1992 Oct;21(10):1228-33. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(05)81751-2.


Study objective: To provide an overview of the Loma Prieta earthquake regarding patient care in affected hospitals.

Design: A retrospective review of medical records using International Classification of Disease, ninth revision (ICD-9) codes and a personal interview questionnaire.

Setting: Fifty-one hospitals in the six-county area most affected by the earthquake.

Type of participants: Patients seeking care in emergency departments of study hospitals and supervising emergency physicians and ED nurses at the time of the earthquake.

Measurements: ED census data, complaint and diagnosis, disposition, and operative procedures for patients seen during the study period.

Main results: Affected hospitals experienced a 15% increase in ED census during the study period. Minor trauma was the most common patient complaint. Open wound (870-897), contusion (920-924), and fracture (800-829) were the most common ICD-9 diagnostic categories. The percentage of patients presenting to EDs during the study period who were hospitalized increased slightly compared with baseline. Seventy-five percent of operative procedures were earthquake related; 63.7% of these were for fracture reduction. Physicians and nurses had somewhat conflicting opinions on adequacy of ED staffing. A small number of emergency physicians had difficulty in obtaining diagnostic tests on the night of the earthquake. Physicians noted no differences in diagnosis or treatment resulting from the earthquake.

Conclusion: The Loma Prieta earthquake resulted in minimal negative impact on patient care in hospitals in the study area. The use of the ICD-9 classification deserves further consideration and study to improve the predictive value of disaster illness and injury reporting. The event has provided the stimulus for Bay Area hospitals to further improve plans for patient care during a disaster.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • California
  • Diagnosis-Related Groups
  • Disasters*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Patient Admission / statistics & numerical data*
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workforce