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ER overcrowding opens possibility of patient injury

Hundreds of millions of people visit emergency rooms every year in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. Many have a habit now of visiting ERs for primary care, and with hospitals closing down, ERs are becoming more crowded than ever. But one factor in this trend stands out above all others: the practice of boarding. This is important because overcrowding raises the risk for harmful delays in treatment and errors in diagnosis.

Boarding occurs when patients with a scheduled treatment are left to wait in the ER or out in the hallway until a hospital bed becomes available. In a 2007 report, the Institute of Medicine recognized that boarding was part of a nationwide crisis lowering the quality of care for ER patients. In 2016, two-thirds of hospitals admitted to boarding some of their patients for two hours or longer.

Not much has changed since 2007. Boarding continues as a practice largely for financial reasons. For example, hospitals covered by Medicare will prioritize procedures that have a higher reimbursement rate attached to them, such as invasive surgeries and elective procedures. The specialists in these fields get greater leeway in scheduling, making it harder for ER patients to schedule a time for the less lucrative treatment that they require.

Whatever the situation might be like at a hospital, doctors are expected to live up to a generally accepted standard of care. When they fail to do this and make an error that harms a patient, that patient may pursue a medical malpractice case. It might be hard to prove negligence and then link it to the injuries, so victims, or their families if victims are physically or mentally incapacitated, may want to consult an attorney. An attorney may handle negotiations on behalf of the patient or their family.