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Overcrowded hospitals — now that is scary

October 31, 2008
by kate
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Today is Halloween, a day that can be a little scary if you work in New York City and see some of the costumes on display (if they are indeed costumes — oops, that’s my suburban side coming out again). People love to use the word “scary” on this day, whether they’re describing haunted houses, ghosts and goblins, or the amount of candy that will be consumed tonight by both children and adults.

But all kidding aside, what’s truly scary is an issue that seems to keep popping up in the news: overcrowding in hospitals. It’s become a huge problem for many organizations, particularly those based in large cities. Check out these findings from a survey released by the American College of Emergency Physicians last year:

· Seven out of eight top hospital executives, administrators and managers across the United States believe that overcrowding has failed to improve at their facilities.

· 80 percent of respondents say overcrowding is one of their top five management concerns

· More than 70 percent of the administrators who responded say that while their facilities aim to admit patients from their ED within two hours of arrival, almost half (48 percent) fail to meet that goal more than half the time.

This one may be the most alarming of all:

· 60 percent of more than 200 survey respondents say that overcrowding forces hospitals to divert patients needing urgent medical care to other facilities.

In many cases, there isn’t anywhere to divert patients. Earlier this week, an MSNBC article described the temporary solution that some New York area hospitals have devised to deal with the problem. Termed as “hallway medicine,” it entails placing patients in the hallway to make room for more ER patients. At first gland, it may seem like a very poor answer to the problem — but what are the options? What if there are rooms available?

Back in July, Daphne Lawrence wrote an excellent blog entitled, Death and Culture that discussed the tragic case of a patient who died in an NYC emergency department after spending an hour on the floor in distress. Sadly, this wasn’t an isolated incident. According to the ACEP, nearly 13 percent of emergency physicians said they experienced a patient dying as a result of boarding in the ED.

There are undoubtedly several factors that play into this, one of which is understaffing. But perhaps this is one of those situations where technology can lend a hand. A number of hospitals are leveraging real-time technologies, intuitive dashboards and software integration to create a centralized source for patient flow information, which can lead to improvements in efficiency and cut down on wait times for patients.

It seems to me that taking this kind of proactive approach is a smart way to deal with a problem like overcrowding. While it will cost money in the short-term, it could lead to significant savings down the road. And more important, it could potentially save lives. If you are a CIO whose organization is either deploying or planning to implement a patient flow system, please e-mail me. I’d love to hear about your experience.

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