Medicine Magazine

Long Emergency Department Admissions Shorten Lives

Posted on the 03 February 2012 by Torontoemerg

Via, another study showing prolonged emergency department stays are less than optimal:

There were 41,256 admissions from the ED. Mortality generally increased with increasing boarding time, from 2.5% in patients boarded less than 2 hours to 4.5% in patients boarding 12 hours or more (p < 0.001). Mean hospital LOS also showed an increase with boarding time (p < 0.001), from 5.6 days (SD ± 11.4 days) for those who stayed in the ED for less than 2 hours to 8.7 days (SD ± 16.3 days) for those who boarded for more than 24 hours. The increases were still apparent after adjustment for comorbid conditions and other factors.

In other words, two consequences from lengthy Emergency department admissions: first, you are about twice as likely to die if you are admitted for more than twelve hours, and secondly, if you stay for longer than 24 hours (and survive, of course) you’re likely to be hospitalized for three extra days.

Clearly something bad happens when patients are admitted in EDs for long periods of time. The study’s authors identify a few reasons for this. Care for admitted emergency department patients are poorly prioritized by both physicians and nurses; a preference bias occurs because less acute patients tend to get beds more quickly (a phenomenon which is a frequent occurrence in my hospital as “easy” patients go off-service to Paeds or Post-Partum or General Surg); there are also delays in the getting appropriate treatment started, which negatively affects mortality.

I would add the obvious, that expecting Emergency departments to run as Emergency departments and simultaneously as ICU/Post-Op/Med-Surg/Urology/Gyne/Surgical Outpatients/Paediatric unit(s) is probably not a reasonable expectation, if for the simple reason acutely ill new ED patients will always take priority over admitted patients, except when those patients are actively crashing. Additionally EDs are not set up to take care of admitted patients. We are not given the resources to do the job properly.

I don’t expect this study would surprise anyone who has actually worked in an Emergency department. We’re used to seeing patients decompensating before our eyes. What it does is give us ammunition. When some manager tells me, “I’m not going to do those bed moves for that patient because you only have seven admits — which I have actually heard fall out of a manager’s mouth — I can cheerfully reply, “You’re increasing the risk of that patient dying to 1 in 20.” When the ICU tells me to wait till after lunch, I can counter with “You are increasing the patient’s overall length of stay with every hour’s delay.” Most importantly it adds a sense of moral urgency. Get the patients upstairs, or increase the risk of killing them. It’s pretty simple.


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