State of the art: emergency department observation units

Crit Pathw Cardiol. 2012 Sep;11(3):128-38. doi: 10.1097/HPC.0b013e31825def28.


Hospitals and emergency departments face the challenges of escalating healthcare costs, mismatched resource utilization, concern over avoidable admissions, and hospital and emergency department overcrowding. One approach that has been used by hospitals to address these issues is the use of emergency department observation units. Research in this setting has increased in recent years, leading to a better understanding of the role of these units and their unique benefits. These benefits have been proven for health systems as a whole and for several acute conditions including chest pain, asthma, syncope, transient ischemic attack, atrial fibrillation, heart failure, abdominal pain, and more. Benefits include a decrease in diagnostic uncertainty, lower cost and resource utilization, improved patient satisfaction, and clinical outcomes that are comparable to admitted patients. As more hospitals begin to use observation units, there is a need for further education and research in how to optimize the use of emergency department observation units. The purpose of this article is to provide a general overview of observation units, including advancements and research in this field.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Protocols
  • Emergency Medicine / methods*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Hospital Costs
  • Hospital Units*
  • Hospitalization / economics
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / economics
  • Patient Admission / economics
  • Patient Readmission / economics
  • Patient Readmission / statistics & numerical data
  • Time Factors