The results of a new study seem to fly in the face of earlier findings suggested that overcrowded or stressed emergency departments have a much higher risk of medical errors. The new study finds au contraire, busy emergency departments actually have higher survival rates after a life-threatening illness or injury, compared to emergency departments that are not so busy.
In the study, researchers analyzed data involving 17.5 million patients who were treated at emergency departments at 3,000 hospitals across the country. They found the overall risk of fatality was approximately 10% lower among patients who went to the busiest emergency department rather than the less-busy one.
That surprising difference in survival rates was even higher when patients were suffering from very serious or time-sensitive conditions. Fatality rates were 26% lower in the case of patients who were rushed to the emergency department after suffering from sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection. They were 22% lower in the case of patients who were taken to emergency departments with lung failure. In these cases, the patients were rushed to busy emergency departments, and still walked out healthy. Even a person suffering a heart attack was much more likely to survive if he visited the busiest emergency department around.
In fact, the researchers have concluded from their study if all patients received the kind of care the busiest ERs provide, there would be 24,000 less fatalities every year. The researchers don't provide any explanations for this increase in the quality of care at a busy emergency department, contrary to the popular belief. Higher staff experience could have something to do with it.