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Study says packed emergency rooms disproportionately affect minorities
08.13.2012When hospital overcrowding forces the diversion of ambulances to facilities farther away, it puts lives at risk, according to a study to be published in August 2012 in the journal Health Affairs. If immediate care or urgent care facilities are geographically available, individuals should keep them in mind if they require prompt care for a non-life threatening affliction.
Scientists from multiple institutions examined 2007 data from 202 California hospitals, excluding those specializing in pediatrics and those that do not allow ambulance diversions. The results showed that the hospitals offering emergency medicine in neighborhoods with a large minority population were directing ambulances elsewhere for 306 hours that year. Meanwhile, hospitals in predominantly white areas sent ambulances away for only 75 hours.
"If you pass by a closer hospital that is on diversion for a hospital 15 minutes down the road, you are increasing the amount of time the patient is in a compromised situation. It puts these patients at higher risk for bad health outcomes from conditions like heart attacks or stroke, where minutes could mean the difference between life and death," said head researcher and assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California San Francisco, Renee Y. Hsia.
Hsia has tackled the subject of ambulance diversion before, having led a similar study in 2011 that linked the overwhelming of emergency room physicians to increased heart attack deaths in California.
According to the researchers, the study on minority areas is the first of its kind, and is indicative of a systemic need to improve hospital flow, and to reform policies regarding ambulance diversion. They also note the imperfections of these findings.Trauma victims are still sometimes accepted at hospitals, even if most ambulances are being turned away, and the study only focused on California.
While ambulance diversion is still a problem in the Sunshine State, the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health successfully lobbied to legally forbid the practice in 2009.
A recent study by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics shows that, in 2012, total spending … more
A new system in Toronto provides an example of emergency department solutions.