Study objective: Emergency department (ED) crowding is a prevalent health delivery problem and may adversely affect the outcomes of patients requiring admission. We assess the association of ED crowding with subsequent outcomes in a general population of hospitalized patients.
Methods: We performed a retrospective cohort analysis of patients admitted in 2007 through the EDs of nonfederal, acute care hospitals in California. The primary outcome was inpatient mortality. Secondary outcomes included hospital length of stay and costs. ED crowding was established by the proxy measure of ambulance diversion hours on the day of admission. To control for hospital-level confounders of ambulance diversion, we defined periods of high ED crowding as those days within the top quartile of diversion hours for a specific facility. Hierarchic regression models controlled for demographics, time variables, patient comorbidities, primary diagnosis, and hospital fixed effects. We used bootstrap sampling to estimate excess outcomes attributable to ED crowding.
Results: We studied 995,379 ED visits resulting in admission to 187 hospitals. Patients who were admitted on days with high ED crowding experienced 5% greater odds of inpatient death (95% confidence interval [CI] 2% to 8%), 0.8% longer hospital length of stay (95% CI 0.5% to 1%), and 1% increased costs per admission (95% CI 0.7% to 2%). Excess outcomes attributable to periods of high ED crowding included 300 inpatient deaths (95% CI 200 to 500 inpatient deaths), 6,200 hospital days (95% CI 2,800 to 8,900 hospital days), and $17 million (95% CI $11 to $23 million) in costs.
Conclusion: Periods of high ED crowding were associated with increased inpatient mortality and modest increases in length of stay and costs for admitted patients.
Copyright © 2012 American College of Emergency Physicians. Published by Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.