Patient Safety Topics
Emergency Department, Patient Flow

Emergency departments (EDs) in the United States provide a critical service for patients in need of urgent, often life-saving medical care. Additionally, the role of the ED has evolved from providing primarily life-saving treatment to providing urgent unscheduled care to patients unable to gain access to their primary care providers, to providing care to Medicaid beneficiaries, and to providing care to patients without insurance. These factors contribute to crowding in the ED. Timeliness of care in the ED is a matter of patient safety.

Key Data and Statistics

In 2010, the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority published an article that delineated the patient’s ED stay into the following phases:

  • Phase I: patient arrival in the ED up to diagnostic evaluation
  • Phase II: diagnostic evaluation through disposition decision
  • Phase III: after disposition decision through departure from the ED

The Figure depicts each phase, including components and potential hazards to patient safety.

Figure. Emergency Department Flow Phases
Figure. Emergency Department Flow Phases

Educational Tools

Emergency Department Census Tracking Tool
Facilities can use this tool to track the census in the emergency department for up to five weeks, and track the census separately for adult, pediatric, and trauma patients.

Emergency Department Operational Measures Tool
Facilities can use this sample tool to track the operational benchmarks collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, especially for emergency departments without a comprehensive electronic information system.

Emergency Department Front-End Process Measure Threshold Tool
Facilities can use this sample tool to define emergency department front-end process measure thresholds and to specify interventions that may be implemented when a process measure threshold has been reached.


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Safety Tips for Patients