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Crowding measures associated with the quality of emergency department care: a systematic review


Objectives — Despite the substantial body of literature on emergency department (ED) crowding, to the best of our knowledge, there is no agreement on the measure or measures that should be used to quantify crowding. The objective of this systematic review was to identify existing measures of ED crowding that have been linked to quality of care as defined by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) quality domains (safe, effective, patient-centered, efficient, timely, and equitable).

Methods — Six major bibliographic databases were searched from January 1980 to January 2012, and hand searches were conducted of relevant journals and conference proceedings. Observational studies (cross-sectional, cohort, and case-control), quality improvement studies, quasi-experimental (e.g., before/after) studies, and randomized controlled trials were considered for inclusion. Studies that did not provide measures of ED crowding were excluded. Studies that did not provide quantitative data on the link between crowding measures and quality of care were also excluded. Two independent reviewers assessed study eligibility, completed data extraction, and assessed study quality using the Newcastle-Ottawa Quality Assessment Scale (NOS) for observational studies and a modified version of the NOS for cross-sectional studies.

Results — The search identified 7,413 articles. Thirty-two articles were included in the review: six cross-sectional, one case-control, 23 cohort, and two retrospective reviews of performance improvement data. Methodologic quality was moderate, with weaknesses in the reporting of study design and methodology. Overall, 15 of the crowding measures studied had quantifiable links to quality of care. The three measures most frequently linked to quality of care were the number of patients in the waiting room, ED occupancy (percentage of overall ED beds filled), and the number of admitted patients in the ED awaiting inpatient beds. None of the articles provided data on the link between crowding measures and the IOM domains reflecting equitable and efficient care.

Conclusions — The results of this review provide data on the association between ED crowding measures and quality of care. Three simple crowding measures have been linked to quality of care in multiple publications.



Stang AS, Crotts J, Johnson DW, Hartling L, Guttmann A. Acad Emerg Med. 2015; 22(6):643-56. Epub 2015 May 20.

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