Background: Emergency department (ED) crowding caused by access block is an increasing public health issue and has been associated with impaired healthcare delivery, negative patient outcomes and increased staff workload. Aim: To investigate the impact of opening a new ED on patient and healthcare service outcomes.
Methods: A 24-month time series analysis was employed using deterministically linked data from the ambulance service and three ED and hospital admission databases in Queensland, Australia.
Results: Total volume of ED presentations increased 18%, while local population growth increased by 3%. Healthcare service and patient outcomes at the two pre-existing hospitals did not improve. These outcomes included ambulance offload time: (Hospital A PRE: 10min, POST: 10min, P < 0.001; Hospital B PRE: 10min, POST: 15min, P < 0.001); ED length of stay: (Hospital A PRE: 242min, POST: 246min, P < 0.001; Hospital B PRE: 182min, POST: 210min, P < 0.001); and access block: (Hospital A PRE: 41%, POST: 46%, P < 0.001; Hospital B PRE: 23%, POST: 40%, P < 0.001). Time series modelling indicated that the effect was worst at the hospital furthest away from the new ED.
Conclusions: An additional ED within the region saw an increase in the total volume of presentations at a rate far greater than local population growth, suggesting it either provided an unmet need or a shifting of activity from one sector to another. Future studies should examine patient decision making regarding reasons for presenting to a new or pre-existing ED. There is an inherent need to take a 'whole of health service area' approach to solve crowding issues.