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Patients Are Waiting Longer to Receive Emergency Care

Likely cause is overcrowding due to emergency department closures and increased visits

THURSDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Patients who present at emergency departments -- including those requiring emergent attention for acute myocardial infarction -- are waiting significantly longer to see a physician. The most likely reason is overcrowding, according to a report published online Jan. 15 in Health Affairs.

Andrew Wilper, M.D., of the Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance in Cambridge, Mass., and colleagues used data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, a survey of visits to U.S. emergency departments (EDs) and hospital outpatient departments, to compare wait times in 1997-2000 and 2003-2004.

Between 1997 and 2004, the researchers found that the median ED wait time increased 36 percent. They also found that median wait times increased 40 percent for patients requiring emergent attention and 150 percent for patients with acute myocardial infarction. Wait times were longest for blacks, Hispanics, women and patients in urban areas, according to the researchers.

"A variety of factors probably contributed to longer waits," the authors write. "Most important was likely crowding as a result of ED closures and an increase in total ED visits; between 1994 and 2004 the number of ED visits increased from 93.4 million to 110.2 million annually, while the number of EDs fell by as much as 12.4 percent. Other likely contributors include inpatient bed shortages leading to bottlenecks in the ED; increasing uninsurance; population aging; shortages of staffing, space, and interpreters; and difficulties assuring non-emergency department ED follow-up care."

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