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ER Closures Increase Risk of Death at Surrounding ERs

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SOURCE American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP)


WASHINGTON, Aug. 4, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Patients who were admitted to hospitals in the vicinity of a hospital that had closed its emergency department had 5 percent greater odds of inpatient mortality than patients admitted to unaffected hospitals.  The risk of death was more pronounced for non-elderly patients and patients with time-sensitive conditions such as acute myocardial infarction (AMI or heart attack), stroke and sepsis.  The results of the California study are published today in the August issue of Health Affairs ("California Emergency Department Closures Are Associated with Increased Inpatient Mortality at Nearby Hospitals")  http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/33/8/1323.abstract.

"The shrinking number of emergency departments combined with a growth in emergency patients is having a demonstrably dangerous effect on the people of California," said senior study author Renee Hsia, MD, FACEP of the University of California San Francisco in Calif.  "Furthermore, emergency departments and trauma centers – which often experience greater financial pressures than their parents hospitals overall – are more likely to close at hospital with negative profit margins.  Therefore, ER closures may widen disparities by further reducing access to care in communities that are already characterized by having vulnerable patients and underpaid hospitals."

Between 1999 and 2010, 48 emergency departments closed in California.  During that time, 16,246.892 patients were admitted to California hospitals from the emergency department, one-quarter of them near a recently closed ER.  Patients admitted to the hospital in the geographic vicinity of other emergency department closures had 5 percent higher odds of inpatient mortality than patients who were admitted in areas where no emergency department had closed.

Odds of morality increased by 10 percent for non-elderly adults, by 15 percent for patients with AMI, by 10 percent for patients with stroke and by 8 percent for patients with sepsis.

Researchers speculate that the closure of emergency departments increases pressure on surrounding emergency departments as well as on patients who depend on them.  The increased mortality may be attributed to increased travel time to farther emergency departments as well as increased wait times or crowding in ERs with bigger populations dependent on them.

"Emergency department closures have ripple effects on patient outcomes that should be considered when health systems and policy makers decide how to regulate ER closures," said Dr. Hsia.  "As it stands now, the people who are most put at risk are those who are most vulnerable – the poor, the underinsured and the very sick."

ACEP is the national medical specialty society representing emergency medicine. ACEP is committed to advancing emergency care through continuing education, research and public education. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, ACEP has 53 chapters representing each state, as well as Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. A Government Services Chapter represents emergency physicians employed by military branches and other government agencies. 

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