Hospitals serving a large number of minority patients are significantly more likely to divert ambulances because of ED overcrowding, researchers write in Health Affairs.
For the study, researchers from University of California-Los Angeles, UC-San Francisco, and Stanford University measured hospital overcrowding and ambulance diversions at 202 California hospitals in 2007.
They found that hospitals serving the largest percentage of minority patients diverted ambulances because of overcrowding up to four times as often as facilities that served the smallest percentage of minority populations.
According to the study, EDs become overcrowded for various reasons, including:
- A lack of proper staffing to admit patients to the hospital;
- A lack of proper equipment or services needed to treat a specific medical problem; and
- Use for non-emergency care by patients who are uninsured or do not have adequate access to primary care services.
They also noted that larger issues within the health care system, including hospitals' struggles to manage low-income patients and a need for better emergency management, contribute to ED overcrowding.
The study concluded that "system-level policies, whether at the hospital or county level, regulating ambulance diversion may help policymakers, health care providers and hospital administrators reduce diversion and its associated inequalities" (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/6; Yeung, California Watch, 8/6).
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