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Overcrowded ERs = higher death rates

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association  concludes that diverting patients from overcrowded hospital Emergency Rooms (ERs) is linked to a 3 percent higher risk of death for heart attack patients. The study was based upon 14,000 medicare patients in California.

"For every hundred patients there are three avoidable deaths," said Dr. Renee Hsia, an emergency physician at the University of California, San Francisco who led the study.  "Now we actually have empirical evidence to show crowding affects patients in a very real way," Hsia told Reuters.

"We know as practitioners it's very unpleasant to work when it's crowded," said Hsia. "You kind of know that you're not able to give patients enough attention because everybody is running around. Now we know we have to pay more attention to this, because patients are dying from it."

Steven L Bernstein of Yale University School of Medicine told Reuters that ambulance diversion is a reasonable proxy for crowding, and that the new findings should be a wake-up call to both patients and policymakers.  "You should ask your local hospital what it's doing about diversion and crowding, because your life might depend on it."

ER overcrowding is definitely an issue in Ontario: in fact it may be worse. At 97.9%, Ontario also has a much higher level of hospital bed occupancy than the USA. As a result of this extraordinarily high bed occupancy, Ontario typically has about 600 patients clogging up the ERs as they patiently wait for a hospital acute care bed to become available.


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