National ED crowding and hospital quality: results from the 2013 Hospital Compare data

Am J Emerg Med. 2014 Jun;32(6):634-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2014.02.008. Epub 2014 Feb 14.


Objectives: We explored Hospital Compare data on emergency department (ED) crowding metrics to assess characteristics of reporting vs nonreporting hospitals, whether hospitals ranked as the US News Best Hospitals (2012-2013) vs unranked hospitals differed in ED performance and relationships between ED crowding and other reported hospital quality measures.

Methods: An ecological study was conducted using data from Hospital Compare data sets released March 2013 and from a popular press publication, US News Best Hospitals 2012 to 2013. We compared hospitals on 5 ED crowding measures: left-without-being-seen rates, waiting times, boarding times, and length of stay for admitted and discharged patients.

Results: Of 4810 hospitals included in the Hospital Compare sample, 2990 (62.2%) reported all ED 5 crowding measures. Median ED length of stay for admitted patients was 262 minutes (interquartile range [IQR], 215-326), median boarding was 88 minutes (IQR, 60-128), median ED length of stay for discharged patients was 139 minutes (IQR, 114-168), and median waiting time was 30 minutes (IQR, 20-44). Hospitals ranked as US News Best Hospitals 2012 to 2013 (n=650) reported poorer performance on ED crowding measures than unranked hospitals (n=4160) across all measures. Emergency department boarding times were associated with readmission rates for acute myocardial infarction (r=0.14, P<.001) and pneumonia (r=0.17, P<.001) as well as central line-associated bloodstream infections (r=0.37, P<.001).

Conclusions: There is great variation in measures of ED crowding across the United States. Emergency department crowding was related to several measures of in-patient quality, which suggests that ED crowding should be a hospital-wide priority for quality improvement efforts.

MeSH terms

  • Crowding
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / standards
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitals / standards
  • Hospitals / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitals, Teaching / standards
  • Hospitals, Teaching / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay / statistics & numerical data
  • Quality Indicators, Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Quality of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Waiting Lists