Characterizing emergency departments to improve understanding of emergency care systems

Int J Emerg Med. 2011 Jul 14;4:42. doi: 10.1186/1865-1380-4-42.


International emergency medicine aims to understand different systems of emergency care across the globe. To date, however, international emergency medicine lacks common descriptors that can encompass the wide variety of emergency care systems in different countries. The frequent use of general, system-wide indicators (e.g. the status of emergency medicine as a medical specialty or the presence of emergency medicine training programs) does not account for the diverse methods that contribute to the delivery of emergency care both within and between countries. Such indicators suggest that a uniform approach to the development and structure of emergency care is both feasible and desirable. One solution to this complex problem is to shift the focus of international studies away from system-wide characteristics of emergency care. We propose such an alternative methodology, in which studies would examine emergency department-specific characteristics to inventory the various methods by which emergency care is delivered. Such characteristics include: emergency department location, layout, time period open to patients, and patient type served. There are many more ways to describe emergency departments, but these characteristics are particularly suited to describe with common terms a wide range of sites. When combined, these four characteristics give a concise but detailed picture of how emergency care is delivered at a specific emergency department. This approach embraces the diversity of emergency care as well as the variety of individual emergency departments that deliver it, while still allowing for the aggregation of broad similarities that might help characterize a system of emergency care.