Are Overcrowded Emergency Rooms a Threat to Patient Safety?

Overcrowded emergency rooms may be a threat to your safety.Overcrowded emergency rooms can put patients at risk of death or injury from medical mistakes. Many of the common causes of medical mistakes, such as signoff errors, poor communication or failure to double-check work may be more likely to occur when health care providers are rushing between patients in crowded emergency rooms.

Crowded emergency departments may also divert ambulances to other hospitals or require longer wait times for incoming patients. For patients with serious health conditions, diversions and longer wait times are a recipe for disaster.

A study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine claimed patients undergoing treatment in overcrowded emergency rooms had a 5 percent higher risk of death than patients in less-crowded emergency rooms. Another study conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) suggested medical mistakes are twice as common in crowded emergency departments. Overcrowding is a patient safety risk and has been for years, but are there any solutions to this problem?

Can Emergency Rooms Reduce Crowding and Improve Patient Safety?

Solving America’s emergency room overcrowding crisis will not be easy, but some organizations and hospitals have created potential solutions. For example, some hospitals may have areas where patients with less-serious conditions can been seen by nurses or physician assistants instead of doctors.

The AHRQ suggests hospitals set up patient flow teams to reduce overcrowding. Flow teams would consist of several high-ranking staff members and would help coordinate the influx and departure of patients. Creating flow teams and developing strategies is more difficult than it sounds.

Hospitals would have to analyze certain groups that contribute to overcrowding and add specialists to deal with these groups. Let’s say for example a hospital is experiencing repeatedly large influxes of patients with psychiatric problems. It could add additional mental health specialists and psychiatric ward beds, freeing up other health care providers in the emergency room.

Hospitals are likely to deal with overcrowding in varying ways, but it is an issue that warrants attention. Due to the increased likelihood of mistakes and worse patient outcomes, overcrowding cannot be ignored if patient safety is to be taken seriously.

The Tampa Bay medical malpractice attorneys at Shapiro Law Group are dedicated to helping patients and families who have been hurt by medical wrongdoing.


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