The number of uninsured (and underinsured) continues to rise. Where do these patients go for their health care? The most obvious answer is emergency departments, which are required by Medicare
to screen for emergency conditions and to stabilize any they find, regardless of ability to pay. Even those without an emergency condition may get their sore throat and fever treated, or perhaps they will be triaged to the ambulatory care clinic down that hallway and to your left. Meanwhile, hospitals continue to close their emergency rooms after years of struggling to provide care for those uninsured patients, reducing the emergency-care capacity of one community after another.
One of the consequences of this pattern is that the remaining emergency rooms operate at or near capacity for far more hours of far more days than ever before -- over capacity, too, forcing emergency room personnel to treat patients in hallways while they wait for an examining room or in-patient room to open up. The practice is called "boarding," and according to a recent survey of doctors in NY, NJ, and CT conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians
, "boarding has increased significantly in recent years." Yesterday's NY Times
had the story
, which explored the quality-of-care implications of the practice.