ED boarding times hit unsafe levels when hospitals face capacity strain: study

During the first year of the pandemic, emergency department patients who were awaiting to be admitted were held in the ED for a median of 6.58 hours, exceeding the four-hour period recommended by The Joint Commission, according to findings published Sept. 30 in JAMA Network Open.

Researchers from New Haven, Conn.-based Yale University and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor analyzed data from a voluntary peer benchmarking service offered by Epic that was collected from January 2020 to December 2021. Hospitals reporting benchmarking data increased as the pandemic went on, rising from 1,289 in January 2020 to 1,769 in December 2021. 

Researchers found that when hospital occupancy was greater than 85 percent, ED boarding time exceeded the four-hour standard 88.9 percent of the time. The Joint Commission lists boarding — which often means patients are waiting to be admitted in hallways — a patient safety risk that shouldn't exceed four hours, researchers said. 

"Downstream harms include medical errors, compromises to patient privacy and increased mortality," the report said. 

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