Study objectives: To assess the extent and distribution of hospital and emergency department crowding nationally.
Design: The research design consisted of a mailed questionnaire disseminated in the fall of 1988 to the member institutions of the National Association of Public Hospitals (NAPH) and the Council of Teaching Hospitals (COTH).
Type of participants: Study participants included hospital administrators and ED directors from 239 of the non-Veterans Administration, general acute care, US members of COTH and NAPH.
Measurements: Key measures of hospital and ED crowding including mean ED holding times for floor and ICU beds.
Main results: Three fourths of responding hospitals reported increases in ED visits over the preceding three years. Mean ED holding times for admitted patients were 3.5 hours (median, 2.0 hours) for a floor bed and 2.9 hours (median, 1.5 hours) for an ICU bed. Half of all hospitals noted maximum waits for floor and ICU beds of ten hours or more and seven hours or more, respectively. Measures taken by hospitals to manage crowding during August 1988 included restricting access to some types of patients (mean, 3.6 days), actively transferring patients to other hospitals (mean, 2.2 days), transfer refusal (mean, 2.8 days), and total ambulance diversion (mean, 1.6 days).
Conclusions: Our study strongly suggests that ED crowding is not an isolated phenomenon; ED crowding and its attendant problems appear to affect hospitals with similar adverse effects regardless of ownership. Although our results suggest that ED crowding is concentrated in metropolitan areas and in a smaller subset of hospitals, we found instances of crowding among hospitals nationwide.