10% drop in ER volume significantly cuts patient death rates, study finds

If hospitals are able to lower the number of emergency room patients by just 10 percent, it could significantly lower patients' risk of death, a study published in the Journal of Health Economics found.

Lindsey Woodworth, PhD, an assistant professor in economics at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, found that the opening of a new emergency room cut patient volume at existing facilities by an average of 10 percent. This drop was linked to a 24 percent decrease in mortality rates over 30 days and a 17 percent decline over six months. 

Dr. Woodworth said the decrease may be due to fewer people leaving the ER against medical advice when faced with long wait times. She also found that a 10 percent drop in ER volume led to a 51 percent decrease in patients walking out without seeking care. 

For her study, Dr. Woodworth examined death records and hospital administrative data from seven EDs in South Carolina, each of which had a new emergency room open in the same vicinity between 2004 and 2010, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Staffing levels and the types of patients being treated at each facility did not significantly change after crowding decreased at the existing facilities.

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