Emergency department practices could worsen health problems

When patients are treated in beds placed in hallways of crowded emergency departments in Michigan, they face many increased risk factors.

When a person in Detroit needs medical attention after doctors' offices are closed, the only two options typically available are urgent care clinics or hospital emergency departments. Unfortunately, overcrowded EDs may lead to serious repercussions for those who choose to go to the hospital for medical care.

Statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 40 percent of people who visit an ED wait between 15 and 59 minutes to see a health care provider. However, once patients are admitted and moved to beds, they may still face increased health risks.

Hazards of hallway beds

The journal Advances in Emergency Medicine states that one result of overcrowded emergency departments is that patients are receiving care in hallways rather than rooms. Many of these patients are deemed too unstable to leave in the waiting room, while others are receiving active trauma treatment or simply waiting to be assigned to a hospital bed.

Not only does this compromise patient privacy, hallway patients often experience serious complications, including the following:

  • Unnoticed breathing or heart problems
  • Delays in time-sensitive testing and procedures
  • Unrelieved and excessive pain
  • Longer hospital stays
  • Traumatic psychological events
  • Higher risk of disability

Treating patients in hallway beds in the ED rather than regular beds leads to much higher rates of illness and death.

Even moving people to the hallways of the units where they will eventually receive a room lowers risk factors, according to the Journal of Emergency Medicine. There, patients have the advantage of receiving care from providers who specialize in their conditions.

Contributing factors

It may be natural to assume that overcrowded EDs are the result of overcrowded hospitals. However, according to Emergency Physicians Monthly, there may be other contributing elements.

One of the possible reasons this practice is so prevalent may be merely financial. By keeping patients in the emergency department longer, more hospital beds can be filled by those seeking elective inpatient procedures, which typically produce higher revenues for hospitals.

Another reason could be caused by perceived safety issues. When there are no rooms available, fire marshals are less vocal about placing patients in ED hallways rather than the departments to which they are being moved, regardless of proven health risks.

Patient safety should always be the first concern of health care providers. Anyone who believes that a health condition was worsened by poor emergency department practices may be eligible to receive financial compensation for resulting medical bills, disabilities and pain and suffering. A medical malpractice attorney in Detroit may be able to provide legal assistance for those who are harmed by negligent hospital care.