COVID-19 Pandemic Leads to Decrease in Emergency Department Wait Times

For years, public health and medical professions have been worried about the impacts of long emergency department (ED) wait times. Emergency departments are routinely crowded, and the long wait before receiving care can have serious consequences on patient outcomes. As areas became impacted by COVID-19, ED visits plummeted, creating a new problem: patients forgoing emergency room care. 

As COVID-19 hit, a mixture of public fear about EDs being hotbeds for the virus and solutions implemented by EDs to divert non-emergent patients in preparation for the pandemic seems to have decreased demand for emergency care. While many non-emergent patients seem to have stopped going to the ED, so did many urgent patients. Indicators of medical neglect, like cardiac death, began to rise. This, and other statistics like it, provide evidence that ED demand is, at least partially, driven by public perception. 

For JAMA Health Forum, Austin Frakt and I delve into the reasons for this drop in acute care acquisition and discuss how to keep wait times manageable as the pandemic subsides. Check out the full article here!

Research for this piece was supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

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