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Study Links Regional Urgent Care Closures With Increased Emergency Room Deaths

medical malpractice - er errors 1In an unbelievable new study, researchers have uncovered a positive correlation between the recent closure of emergency rooms and subsequent emergency room deaths in patients seeking care in an alternative hospital nearby. The study, which was released earlier this month in the medical journal known as Health Affairs,examined the emergency room death rates of several large hospitals, many of which serve predominantly inner-city, poor, at-risk populations.

In sum, the study revealed that patients had an increased risk of dying during an emergency room visit if a nearby hospital emergency room department recently closed.

Details of emergency room death study

The study was conducted by a group of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. It isolated emergency room data spanning 11 years – from 1999 through 2010. The study examined medical records retrieved from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, including inpatient emergency room death rates in emergency rooms adjacent to 48 other hospitals having closed their emergency department. The study a total number of emergency room deaths topping 16 million, however just 4 million of those deaths occurred in a facility nearby one that had closed.

The study revealed that of the four million emergency room deaths occurring between 1999 and 2010 in hospitals adjacent to closed emergency rooms, these patients were five percent more likely to die during the emergency room visit than patients who visited an emergency room that was not near any recently-closed facilities. Counter-intuitively, younger patients under age 65 at the time of admission had a 10 percent higher risk of dying than their elder counterparts.

Background of study

The study was commenced in order to review vital statistics relating to patient health and safety. According to statistics, emergency room visits have increased by 51 percent between 1996 and 2009 – resulting in a total number of visits topping 136 million per year. This increase in urgent care needs, coupled with a six percent decrease in available emergency room facilities, has undoubtedly led to an unexpected influx of patients in facilities adjacent to non-operational former emergency room centers. Emergency care experts believe these ER closures has undoubtedly placed a strain on the emergency healthcare system, resulting in overcrowding and possible oversights.

Experts further agree that the impact of these closures has created a disproportionate risk of death or injury on inner-city, high-risk populations – as many of the recently closed emergency room facilities are located in these areas. Patients presenting in these facilities are often uninsured or dependent upon Medicaid, of a lower socio-economic status, and are generally sicker overall than the average emergency room patient.

Another blaring risk factor possibly explaining the upsurge in emergency room death is the increased travel time necessitated by the closure of a local emergency room department. Likewise, the increase in patient flow in the remaining emergency room departments has caused a dramatic escalation in patient wait-times, which could quickly give rise to a life-or-death situation. All in all, experts are eager to find ways to distribute urgent care patients in such a way to avoid unnecessary suffering, aggravation of symptoms, or patient death.