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Overcrowding in ERs puts patients at risk for errors and delays

More and more people in Texas and across the U.S. are visiting the emergency room for primary care. In 2015, the U.S. saw a 10-year high in the number of ER visits, and in 2016, the number of such visits exceeded 145 million. At the same time, overcrowding in ERs has become a serious threat to all those who go to them.

In particular, patients in overcrowded ERs may suffer from delays, such as delays in treatment or in the administering of medication, and from errors, especially diagnostic errors. Patients who are admitted to the hospital may be forced to stay longer than necessary because of overcrowding. In general, the issue has been linked to higher mortality rates.

The practice of boarding, or having patients wait in the ER or the hallway until a bed is opened, may be the main culprit here. The practice arose because of financial constraints, often those posed by the insurance companies. Insurance companies can provide a higher reimbursement rate for certain procedures, which the hospitals naturally prioritize. Consequently, "choke points" in ER admission can develop. However, with a process called "smoothing," the procedures with a higher reimbursement rate can be successfully spread out throughout the week. There are many other ways that ERs can address inefficiencies.

If hospitals do nothing about overcrowding, then they could be held liable in the event that an ER patient is harmed through delays or errors. Victims who intend to file a malpractice claim will need to prove certain things, the first being the doctor or other medical professional's failure to follow acceptable standards. The process of filing can be difficult, so victims may want legal assistance. A lawyer may be helpful in negotiating a settlement with the other side.

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