Entry overload, emergency department overcrowding, and ambulance bypass

D M Fatovich, R L Hirsch
Emergency Medicine Journal: EMJ 2003, 20 (5): 406-9

OBJECTIVES: To describe an experience of emergency department (ED) overcrowding and ambulance bypass.

METHODS: A prospective observational study at Royal Perth Hospital, a major teaching hospital. Episodes of ambulance bypass and their characteristics were recorded.

RESULTS: From 1 July 1999 to 30 June 2001, there were 141 episodes of ambulance bypass (mean duration 187 min, range 35-995). Monday was the most common day with 39 (28%) episodes. Entry block alone was the most common reason bypass was activated (n=38, 30.4%). The mean number of patients in ED at these times was 40 (occupancy 174%), including nine in the corridor, seven awaiting admission, and 14 waiting to be seen. Episodes attributable to entry block were typically preceded by a presentation rate of >/=10 patients per hour for >/=2 hours (OR 6.2, 95% CI 4.3 to 8.5). Mid-afternoon to early evening was the most common time for activation. Ambulance bypass is increasing in frequency and duration.

CONCLUSIONS: Entry overload resulting in entry block results from overwhelming numbers of patients presenting to the ED in a short space of time. Entry block impairs access to emergency care. Unless something is done in the near future, the general public may no longer be able to rely on EDs for quality and timely emergency care. A "whole of system" approach is necessary to tackle the problem.

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