The role of full capacity protocols on mitigating overcrowding in EDs

Am J Emerg Med. 2012 Mar;30(3):412-20. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2010.12.035. Epub 2011 Mar 1.


Objective: Overcrowding is an important issue facing many emergency departments (EDs). Access block (admitted patients occupying ED stretchers) is a leading contributor, and expeditious placement of admitted patients is an area of research interest. This review examined the effectiveness of full capacity protocols (FCPs) on mitigating ED overcrowding.

Methods: A comprehensive literature search was undertaken to identify potentially relevant studies between 1966 and 2009. Intervention studies in which an FCP was used to influence ED/hospital length of stay and ED/hospital access block were included as a single program or part of a systemwide intervention. Two reviewers independently assessed citation relevance, inclusion, study quality, and extracted data; because of limited data, pooling was not undertaken.

Results: From 14 446 potentially relevant studies, 2 abstracts from the same comparative study were included. From 29 studies on systemwide intervention, 4 contained an FCP component. The included study was a single-center ED study using a before-after design; its methodological quality was rated as weak. One of the abstracts reported that an FCP was associated with less ED length of stay (5-hour reduction) when compared with the comparison period; the other reported that an FCP decreased ED and hospital access block (28% and 37% reduction, respectively). The ED triggers, format, and implementation of FCP protocols varied widely.

Conclusion: Although FCPs may be a promising alternative for overcrowded EDs, the available evidence upon which to support implementation of an FCP is limited. Additional efforts are required to improve the outcome reporting of FCP research using high-quality research methods.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Crowding*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards
  • Hospital Bed Capacity*
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Admission
  • Patient Transfer / organization & administration*
  • Patient Transfer / standards
  • Quality Improvement
  • United Kingdom
  • United States