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Patients face risk for harm as ERs become overcrowded

Every year in Pennsylvania and across the U.S., more than 100 million people visit the emergency room, yet the quality of care in ERs can plummet with overcrowding. The Institute of Medicine noted this issue back in 2007, saying that overcrowding opens up the possibility for medical errors and sometimes life-threatening delays in treatment. Patients may be medicated too late, diagnosed too late or put in the hospital for longer than necessary.

ERs are being overcrowded for several reasons. For example, when hospitals close down, they send all their patients to the facilities that are still open. In addition, more and more Americans visit the ER for primary care. But the main reason is a practice known as boarding, which is having patients wait in the ER until a bed is available. Two-thirds of hospitals in 2016 admitted to boarding some patients for two hours or more. In 2009, 57% of hospitals admitted to this.

However, it's not that hospitals are operating at full capacity. Rather, hospitals are tailoring their schedules and their beds for patients who undergo procedures with a higher reimbursement rate attached to them. Medicare, for example, pays out more for invasive surgeries and elective procedures. These take precedence, so ER patients suffer from inefficient scheduling.

Delays can lead to the worsening of a medical condition, and victims should not be responsible for the medical costs associated with that. In such cases, victims might file a medical malpractice claim and seek compensatory damages from the hospital. Of course, there must be proof that the doctor or other medical professional involved failed to live up to an objective standard of care. Victims need to prove other things, too, so it may be wise to request legal assistance.

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