The Crisis in United States Hospital Emergency Services

The Crisis in United States Hospital Emergency Services
Nov 5 CDPH Team

Harrison JP, Ferguson ED



Emergency services are critical for high-quality healthcare service provision to support acute illness, trauma and disaster response. The greater availability of emergency services decreases waiting time, improves clinical outcomes and enhances local community well being. This study aims to assess United States (U.S.) acute care hospital staffs ability to provide emergency medical services by evaluating the number of emergency departments and trauma centers.


Data were obtained from the 2003 and 2007 American Hospital Association (AHA) annual surveys, which included over 5000 US hospitals and provided extensive information on their infrastructure and healthcare capabilities.


U.S. acute care hospital numbers decreased by 59 or 1.1 percent from 2003 to 2007. Similarly, U.S. emergency rooms and trauma centers declined by 125, or 3 percent. The results indicate that US hospital staffs ability to respond to traumatic injury and disasters has declined. Therefore, US hospital managers need to increase their investment in emergency department beds as well as provide state-of-the-art clinical technology to improve emergency service quality. These investments, when linked to other clinical information systems and the electronic medical record, support further healthcare quality improvement.

Research Limitations/Implications:

This research uses the AHA annual surveys,which represent self-reported data by individual hospital staff. However, the AHA expendssignificant resources to validate reported information and the annual survey data are widely used for hospital research.

Practical Implications:

The declining US emergency rooms and trauma centers have negative implications for patients needing emergency services. More importantly, this research has significant policy implications because it documents a decline in the US emergency healthcare service infrastructure.


This article has important information on US emergency service availability in the hospital industry.