State investigates excessive ambulance bypass at Chicago hospitals

Since 2017, 85 percent of Chicago-area hospitals directed ambulances to take patients to other hospitals, prompting a state investigation, according to the Chicago Tribune

Bypass, introduced in the 1980s as a temporary relief tactic, redirects patients to different hospitals when emergency rooms are too crowded to deliver sufficient care. Hospitals that used bypass the most were often in urban locations. The state launched an investigation after Northwestern Memorial, University of Chicago Medical Center and Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., began using bypass in excess. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported that, since 2017, Chicago-based Northwestern Memorial Hospital diverted ambulances almost 31 percent of the time, according to the Chicago Tribune

Proponents claim bypass guarantees all patients get the highest-quality care. However, studies have found that long durations of bypass have been linked with worse health outcomes for some.

"I think the problem is a lot of hospitals use it on a daily basis now. It's no longer a safety valve," Renee Hsia, MD, a University of California at San Francisco professor of emergency medicine and health policy, told the Chicago Tribune.

The state is still investigating Northwestern Memorial's bypass hours and expecting "progressive improvement," according to the Chicago Tribune.

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