"For people who think about diversion as a solution, this debunks that myth," Dr. Jesse Pines, director of the Center for Health Care Quality at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., told Reuters Health.
Diversion can actually be harmful to patients in critical condition or those who are taken to a hospital that doesn't have their medical records, according to Pines
Previous studies have linked ambulance diversion to more heart attack deaths, for example.
"When you're having a heart attack, you don't want to wait," Pines
A quarter of the emergency rooms open 20 years ago are now closed, and people who visit the ER are sicker, older and tend to stay longer than they did two decades ago - making crowding a growing problem, Pines
Crowded ERs mean long wait times for patients who may be critically ill, and that more people leave before being treated out of frustration.
As the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act takes effect, a surge in the number of insured people will likely mean a spike in ER visits, making crowding even worse, Pines
"It's not good care for patients to be sitting in an emergency department for hours to days instead of being taken to the inpatient units," Burke said.
This study and others suggest the solution is not to let fewer patients into the hospital by controlling when and where ambulances can go, but to get patients released or moved to other areas of the hospital more quickly, she
"The way to do it is to have a better-run emergency department," Pines
and Burke agreed that organizational measures like these within hospitals are the key to solving overcrowding.