Overcrowded Emergency Rooms in Hospitals: Why This Problem Is Not Seeing An End?

Emergency rooms in a hospital are departments where healthcare professionals treat people with severe illnesses or injuries at any time, day or night. These rooms provide quick healthcare service in times of urgency. However, overcrowding of emergency rooms is emerging as a worldwide problem. The word overcrowding here suggests that when the demand for emergency services exceeds the ability of the department to provide care to all within acceptable time frames.

Overcrowding of the emergency department decreases the quality of medical care, such as delaying medication time and increasing the mortality rate of admitted patients. It can also lead to patients waiting long hours to get a consultation and contributes to patient dissatisfaction. However, the problem of ED overcrowding is much more complex than it might seem on the surface.

What causes the overcrowding of ED?

Patient overcrowding in ED can be caused by multiple factors such increasing number of patients, non-emergencies seeking care in the ED, shortage of ED resources, and a number of patients in the ED waiting to be shifted to other hospital wards. Ironically, a large number of non-urgent emergencies find a way to ED. The reason could be a lack of information on what emergency rooms are meant for. Sometimes people are not able to assess the severity of their symptoms and might wrongly judge their symptoms. For instance, abdominal pain might be perceived as a heart attack. Sometimes, the accessibility to emergency rooms is comparatively easier than getting in touch with clinic physicians and specialists. Unlike OPDs that are timed, emergency rooms do welcome all kinds of patients. Emergency rooms might provide you with urgent care if you have a true emergency but it will be painfully slow if it is not. The long waiting and impatience among patients can lead to a build-up of frustration in them.

Many of these factors are well known and have been studied, including, for example, non-urgent visits, so-called “frequent-flyer” patients, low staffing and resource levels, and time of year (e.g., crowding is expected during the influenza season).

One important factor is the presence of caretakers who accompany patients. On one hand, the caretaker might help to fasten the processing of the patient he or she is accompanying, by helping to explain the patient’s condition or by walking with the patient to various tests. On the other hand, the mere presence of these caretakers in the ED may interfere with the capacity of physicians and other staff members to work and move in the space.

What to keep in mind while visiting an ED?

As a patient, one has to understand the role and limitations of an emergency department. The emergency rooms are responsible for evaluating patients when they first arrive and subsequently assigning them to appropriate departments in the hospital or referring them to general practitioners or to specialists for further treatment. The professionals working there have mastery in resuscitation which is to revive patients who have been seriously ill or were involved in severe accidents. The room is meant to provide immediate care to the critically ill or injured, hence it follows a priority system. So, if you are being asked to wait for some time, then probably, the doctor doesn’t see you as as a case of emergency when compared with other patients present in the room. Though it might be convenient to use EDs for less severe health issues such as flu or vomiting but it significantly adds to the burden of these rooms and the professionals working there. Many times, patients with “true emergency” might go unnoticed or ignored if the room is cramped with people.

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