America’s hospitals and health systems are dedicated to doing everything possible for patients, particularly when they need emergency care and as a place for refuge during disaster. Only hospitals provide 24/7 access to care for patients, regardless of their ability to pay. However, in many communities, emergency departments are experiencing higher-than-expected levels of patient demand. This is in part due to a shortage of primary care providers, forcing patients to seek care from an emergency room because they have no other readily available source of care. In other communities, demand for services has increased due to the opioid crisis, the seasonal flu and other factors. When necessary, and to ensure patient safety, a hospital emergency department may go on diversion as a way to meet the needs of its patients. Diversion is not a perfect solution to overcrowding, but it is one strategy used. Some hospitals and the communities they serve are experimenting with other strategies for ensuring that patients’ needs are met in a timely fashion, and the AHA promotes successful strategies as they emerge. The recent USA Today article skimmed over serious limitations with the ambulance diversion study, including that the data used were over a decade old and included just a handful of hospitals in one state.
Jay Bhatt, D.O., is AHA Chief Medical Officer.