Medical Moment: Emergency rooms reaching alarming wait times, experts warn

Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 5:42 PM EST
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(WNDU) - First COVID-19, then RSV, and then the flu.

This winter has been tough on our nation’s healthcare. And it’s making a longstanding issue even worse. Emergency room overcrowding has been a problem for years.

But now, it’s reaching crisis levels.

Imagine racing into your local emergency room and you wait not minutes but hours to be seen, then ER doctors admit you to the hospital, but there are no beds at all... In a pair of newly published studies, the researchers looked first at the length of time patients waited in the ER before they were admitted.

“Those who come to the emergency department are evaluated, they receive diagnostics and treatments, and then, they need inpatient hospitalization,” explained Arjun Venkatesh, MD, an emergency room physician at the Yale School of Medicine. “They need to stay in the hospital, are waiting two, three, four, up to 12 and 24 hours for a bed in the hospital.”

Researchers say that wait time, referred to as “boarding time,” is well above the national recommendation, which is no more than a four-hour wait. As a result, Dr. Venkatesh says patients wind up walking out.

“One in 10 people who come to the emergency department end up leaving without receiving care because the wait is too long,” Dr. Venkatesh said.

The researchers say a healthcare worker shortage is contributing to hospital overcrowding, leading to longer ER wait times. Dr. Venkatesh says hospitals may need to rethink how they deliver healthcare.

“We have to figure out how to get people back to the bedside who have the training and the skills to do it. And maybe we start using artificial intelligence, computer technologies, other tools that we have to do the back office work so that those people can be taking care of patients and be more effective at doing that,” Dr. Venkatesh.

ER overcrowding is also one of the main contributors to nursing burnout.

In a pair of new studies, Yale researchers documented a widespread and increasing level of overcrowding in America’s emergency departments (EDs), a crisis that puts patient safety and access to care at risk. Their findings, they say, help characterize the bigger issues that underlie ED crowding. Their methods also yield more timely assessments of these key indicators, which historically have been hard to come by.

Care at home under a hospital’s direction is a new model being evaluated now in small programs. Tent hospitals might be another option. These are usually constructed on hospital grounds but have also been erected in arenas. Such basic models could be morphed into permanent buildings that are cheaper and can be built more quickly than traditional hospitals.