Patient Care

Emergency Department “Boarding” Results in Undesirable Events


Clinical question: What is the frequency and nature of undesirable events experienced by patients who “board” in the ED?

Background: Hospital crowding results in patients spending extended amounts of time—also known as “boarding”—in the ED as they wait for an inpatient bed. Prior studies have shown that longer ED boarding times are associated with adverse outcomes. Few studies have examined the nature and frequency of undesirable events that patients experience while boarding.

Study design: Retrospective chart review.

Setting: Urban academic medical center.

Synopsis: In this pilot study, authors reviewed the charts of patients who were treated in the ED and subsequently admitted to the hospital on three different days during the study period (n=151). More than a quarter (27.8%) of patients experienced an undesirable event, such as missing a scheduled medication, while they were boarding. Older patients, those with comorbid illnesses, and those who endured prolonged boarding times (greater than six hours) were more likely to experience an undesirable event. In addition, 3.3% of patients experienced such adverse events as suboptimal blood pressure control, hypotension, hypoxia, or arrhythmia.

This study was performed at a single center and lacks a comparison group (i.e., nonboarded patients). It is intended to serve as an exploratory study for future analysis of adverse events in boarded patients.

Bottom line: Undesirable events are common among boarded patients, although it is unknown whether they are more common than in nonboarded patients.

Citation: Liu SW, Thomas SH, Gordon JA, Hamedani AG, Weissman JS. A pilot study examining undesirable events among emergency-department boarded patients awaiting inpatient beds. Ann Emerg Med. 2009;54(3):381-385.

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