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Emergency room patients face more overcrowding

Oregon patients requiring emergency care may be at greater risk of injuries caused by emergency room negligence, based on an interpretation of a recently published study.

The study reported that the number of emergency department visits nationwide increased by 15% from 2001 to 2008, outpacing the country’s population growth by 60%. The length of time spent by patients in emergency departments also rose by nearly 30% in the same period. Taken together, the data suggests that America’s emergency rooms may be suffering from severe overcrowding.

According to researchers, the biggest contributor to the overcrowding and delays may be the increasingly sophisticated care administered to emergency patients upon their arrival. Visits involving CT scans, MRIs and ultrasounds doubled in that period. Imaging, blood tests, and the use of multiple medications and intravenous fluids also grew.

It’s unclear whether such advanced technology is required by every patient that visits an emergency department. However, emergency physicians cite several reasons for administering increasingly sophisticated tests, including evolving standards of practice, medical liability concerns and more demanding patients. Unfortunately, the tests and procedures may be crowding the nation’s emergency departments.

Although the study did not specifically examine how much of the care delivered to ER patients was inappropriate, some believe that overcrowding can deplete limited ER resources and personnel. In such event, the risk of injuries caused by negligence may increase. Another potential consequence of overcrowding may be the early discharge of a patient before he or she is medically stable, a practice known as emergency room “dumping” in violation of the Emergency Medical Transfer and Labor Act.

Emergency room doctors and staff are already under substantial stress, caused by having to respond to any emergency that comes through the door. For some, the strain of overcrowding may be the tipping point. If you received additional injuries because of the care you received in an emergency room, an attorney can review your case to determine whether the hospital staff may be liable.

Source: American Medical News, “Rise in ED crowding tied to sicker patients needing more tests,” Kevin B. O’Reilly, July 9, 2012