Delays in service for non-emergent patients due to arrival of emergent patients in the emergency department: a case study in Hong Kong

M. Xu, T.C. Wong, S.Y. Wong, K.S. Chin, K.L. Tsui, R.Y. Hsia

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Background: In Hong Kong Emergency Departments (EDs), the timeliness of providing high-quality services has been compromised by the increasing attendance of non-emergent patients in addition to the unpredictable arrival of emergency patients. Objectives: We sought to quantify the impact of the presence of emergent patients and other related factors on the delay in service for non-emergent patients. Methods: We conducted a retrospective study in patients who visited the ED of a large hospital in Hong Kong from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. We estimated waiting and length of stay (LOS) for individual non-emergent patients registered during day and evening shifts. Using multiple linear regression, we estimated waiting time and LOS as a function of the presence of emergent patients and other related factors such as patient demographics and clinical factors. In particular, we evaluated the influence of the arrival or presence of emergent patients on the odds of violating the 120-min waiting time target for semi-urgent patients. Results: The arrival of a new emergent patient prolonged the waiting time and LOS of a non-emergent patient by 14.9% (95% confidence interval [CI] 14.2-15.5) and 10.8% (95% CI 10.6-11.0), respectively. An additional patient-hour needed for an emergent patient increased the probability of violating the waiting time target for non-emergent patients (odds ratio 2.3, 95% CI 2.2-2.4). Conclusions: The arrival of an emergent patient significantly prolonged the waiting time and LOS for non-emergent patients. Discouraging non-urgent ED utilization and building a real-time decision-support system are critical methods needed to relieve staff pressure and guide contingent resource reallocation when emergent patients arrive.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-280
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2013


  • non-emergent patients
  • emergent patients
  • emergency department
  • overcrowding
  • length of stay
  • waiting times

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