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Overcrowding is still the norm in EDs, says GAO

NEWS IN BRIEF — Posted June 15, 2009

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Emergency departments continue to be overcrowded, according to an April Government Accountability Office report. The GAO reached the same conclusion in a 2003 report.

The new report examined data on ambulance diversions, length of time patients waited for care and boarding of patients in the ED because there were no inpatient beds available. The agency found that 27.3% of the nation's hospitals reported diverting ambulances at least once in 2006. This compares to 44.5% of hospitals that reported such diversions in 2003.

Patient wait times increased from 2003 and often exceeded recommended time frames for a serious condition. The average wait time was 23 minutes in 2003 for patients who should be seen in less than a minute, according to an emergency severity index. The average wait increased to 28 minutes in 2006 for patients at the same index rating.

A lack of access to inpatient beds continued to be the main factor contributing to overcrowding, the GAO said.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2009/06/15/prbf0615.htm.

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