Background: The association between emergency department (ED) overcrowding and poor patient outcomes is well described, with recent work suggesting that the phenomenon causes delays in time-sensitive interventions, such as resuscitation. Even though most researchers agree on the fact that admitted patients boarding in the ED is a major contributing factor to ED overcrowding, little work explicitly addresses whether in-hospital occupancy is associated to the probability of patients being admitted from the ED. The objective of the present study is to investigate whether such an association exists.
Methods: Retrospective analysis of data on all ED visits to Helsingborg General Hospital in southern Sweden between January 1, 2011, and December 31, 2012, was undertaken. The fraction of admitted patients was calculated separately for strata of in-hospital occupancy <95%, 95-100%, 100-105%, and >105%. Multivariate models were constructed in an attempt to take confounding factors, e.g., presenting complaints, age, referral status, triage priority, and sex into account. Subgroup analysis was performed for each specialty unit within the ED.
Results: Overall, 118,668 visits were included. The total admitted fraction was 30.9%. For levels of in-hospital occupancy <95%, 95-100%, 100-105%, and >105% the admitted fractions were 31.5%, 30.9%, 29.9%, and 28.7%, respectively. After taking confounding factors into account, the odds ratio for admission were 0.88 (CI 0.84-0.93, P >0.001) for occupancy level 95-100%, 0.82 (CI 0.78-0.87, P >0.001) for occupancy level 100-105%, and 0.74 (CI 0.67-0.81, P >0.001) for occupancy level >105%, relative to the odds ratio for admission at occupancy level <95%. A similar pattern was observed upon subgroup analysis.
Conclusions: In-hospital occupancy was significantly associated with a decreased odds ratio for admission in the study population. One interpretation is that patients who would benefit from inpatient care instead received suboptimal care in outpatient settings at times of high in-hospital occupancy. A second interpretation is that physicians admit patients who could be managed safely in the outpatient setting, in times of good in-hospital bed availability. Physicians thereby expose patients to healthcare-associated infections and other hazards, in addition to consuming resources better needed by others.