Another disconcerting statistic from America’s healthcare system: The national average rate of patients leaving emergency rooms without being seen—typically because of long wait times—rose from 1.7 percent between 1998 and 2006 to 2.7 percent between 2007 and 2008. In some areas, the problem is much worse: A fifth of patients leave before seeing a doctor.
These figures, sourced from government data and an analysis by Johns Hopkins University researchers and reported in a recent Wall Street Journal column, include some patients who ultimately don’t need treatment. But research shows that up to half the patients who leave emergency rooms without being seen do require immediate medical attention, and one study found that 11 percent were indeed hospitalized within the next week.
Several-hour waits have become commonplace at U.S. hospitals as the number of emergency departments has fallen by nearly a third over the past two decades while the number of patients seeking care has risen almost 40 percent.
“People who walk out without being seen are a measure of how we are basically failing as a health system in our ability to deliver important care in emergency departments,” Renee Hsia, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Wall Street Journal.
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