Measuring the opportunity loss of time spent boarding admitted patients in the emergency department: a multihospital analysis

J Healthc Manag. 2009 Mar-Apr;54(2):117-24; discussion 124-5.


Emergency department (ED) crowding is an international crisis affecting the timeliness and quality of patient care. Boarding of admitted patients in the ED is recognized as a major contributor to ED crowding. The opportunity loss of this time is the benefit or value it could produce if it were used for something else. In crowded EDs, the typical alternative use of this time is to treat patients waiting to be seen. Various ED performance benchmarks related to inpatient boarding have been proposed, but they are not commonly reported and have yet to be evaluated to determine whether they correlate with the opportunity loss of time used for boarding. This study quantified several measures of ED boarding in a variety of hospital settings and looked for correlations between them and the opportunity loss of the time spent on boarding. In particular, average boarding time per admission was found to be easy to measure. Results revealed that it had a near-perfect linear correlation with opportunity loss. The opportunity loss of every 30 minutes of average boarding time equaled the time required to see 3.5 percent of the ED's daily census. For busy hospitals, the opportunity loss allowed sufficient time for staff to be able to see up to 36 additional patients per day. This correlation suggests that average boarding time per admission may be useful in evaluating efforts to reduce ED crowding and improve patient care.

MeSH terms

  • Crowding*
  • Efficiency, Organizational
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Inpatients*
  • Time Management*