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Are reductions in emergency department length of stay associated with improvements in quality of care? A difference-in-differences analysis


Background — We sought to determine whether patients seen in hospitals who had reduced overall emergency department (ED) length of stay (LOS) in the 2 years following the introduction of the Ontario Emergency Room Wait Time Strategy were more likely to experience improvements in other measures of ED quality of care for three important conditions.

Methods — Retrospective medical record review using difference-in-differences analysis to compare changes in performance on quality indicators over the 3-year period between 11 Ontario hospitals where the median ED LOS had improved from fiscal year 2008 to 2010 and 13 matched sites where ED LOS was unchanged or worsened. Patients with acute myocardial infarction (AMI), asthma and paediatric and adult upper limb fractures in these hospitals in 2008 and 2010 were evaluated with respect to 18 quality indicators reflecting timeliness and safety/effectiveness of care in the ED. In a secondary analysis, we examined shift-level ED crowding at the time of the patient visit and performance on the quality indicators.

Results — Median ED LOS improved by up to 26% (63 min) from 2008 to 2010 in the improved hospitals, and worsened by up to 47% (91 min) in the unimproved sites. We abstracted 4319 and 4498 charts from improved and unimproved hospitals, respectively. Improvement in a hospital's overall median ED LOS from 2008 to 2010 was not associated with a change in any of the other ED quality indicators over the same time period. In our secondary analysis, shift-level crowding was associated only with indicators that reflected timeliness of care. During less crowded shifts, patients with AMI were more likely to be reperfused within target intervals (rate ratio 1.59, 95% CI 1.03 to 2.45), patients with asthma more often received timely administration of steroids (rate ratio 1.88, 95% CI 1.59 to 2.24) and beta-agonists (rate ratio 1.47, 95% CI 1.25 to 1.74), and adult (but not paediatric) patients with fracture were more likely to receive analgesia or splinting within an hour (rate ratio 1.66, 95% CI 1.22 to 2.26).

Conclusions — These results suggest that a policy approach that targets only reductions in ED LOS is not associated with broader improvements in selected quality measures. At the same time, there is no evidence that efforts to address crowding have a detrimental effect on quality of care.



Vermeulen MJ, Guttmann A, Stukel TA, Kachra A, Sivilotti ML, Rowe BH, Dreyer J, Bell R, Schull M. BMJ Qual Saf. 2016; 25(7):489-98. Epub 2015 Aug 13.

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