FRIDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- Upwards of one-fifth of patients who seek care at one of California's hospital emergency departments leave before being seen by anyone, new research reveals.
Rates of "leaves without being seen" varied widely across the state and according to the type of facility in question. And while the study authors said their results can't be extrapolated to the rest of the nation, the trend does seems to be hitting disadvantaged patients the hardest.
"This is concerning to us as both providers and consumers because these are patients who decided they need care, and we're not able to provide service to them," said study author Dr. Renee Y. Hsia, an assistant professor in the department of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, as well as an attending physician in the emergency department of San Francisco General Hospital.
Her team found the highest degree of unattended, would-be ER patients at teaching hospitals, county-owned hospitals and trauma centers, all of which experienced about double the rate of unseen patients as other facilities.
The problem appears to be worst among the poorest patients and those most likely to lack insurance coverage. "This either means that over-crowding is the problem, or that these patients have a tendency to walk out more than others," Hsia added. "For now this is just a snapshot, and we don't know the underlying factors at work here yet."
Hsia and her colleagues report their findings in the Feb. 22 online issue of the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2007 (the same year focused on by the study authors) there were nearly 117 million visits to the nation's ERs. Of those, 18 percent of the patients were seen in less than 15 minutes, and more than 12 percent of all visitors ended up being admitted to the hosp
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