Understanding hospital and emergency department congestion: an examination of inpatient admission trends and bed resources

CJEM. 2010 Jan;12(1):18-26. doi: 10.1017/s1481803500011970.


Objective: Patients in the emergency department (ED) who have been admitted to hospital (inpatient "boarders") are associated with ED overcrowding. They are also a symptom of a hospital-wide imbalance between demand and supply of resources. We analyzed the trends of inpatient admissions, ED boarding volumes, lengths of stay and bed resources of 3 major admitting services at our teaching institution.

Methods: We used hospital databases from Jan. 1, 2004, to Dec. 31, 2007, to analyze ED visits that resulted in admission to hospital.

Results: During the study period, 21 986 ED patients were admitted to hospital. The percentage of cancer-related admissions to the oncology admitting service decreased from 48% in 2004 to 24% in 2007, and admissions to general internal medicine (GIM) increased nearly 2-fold, from 28% in 2004 to 54% in 2007. In addition, GIM admitted about 10% more myocardial infarction and heart failure patients than did cardiology. General internal medicine constituted the majority of ED boarders and had a median boarding length of stay of approximately 15 hours. Inpatient beds on oncology and cardiology services remained static.

Conclusion: Without bed capacity to admit more patients, our specialty services relied on GIM to serve as a safety net. At the same time, GIM was cited as a main source of ED congestion as their patients occupied more ED beds for longer periods than any other admitting service. The data presented in this study has helped effect positive change within our institution. Other hospitals running at or near capacity and faced with similar ED congestion may apply the methods we used in this study to analyze the cause and nature of their situation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospital Bed Capacity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitals, General / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario
  • Patient Admission / trends*
  • Patient Discharge / statistics & numerical data
  • Resource Allocation / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies