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What Happened to the ER Since George Clooney?

We've been watching ER on TV since 1994. But since George Clooney first appeared in scrubs, a lot more has changed than just the cast of the prime-time drama. For one thing, ER's around the country have gotten a lot more crowded.

Like many of you, I've found myself stuck in an emergency room in the middle of the night for hours. It's never been what I'd call a pleasant experience. But it never occurred to me that the tortuous wait was putting my long-term well-being in danger.

Well, that's exactly what some new research suggests, at least for the elderly.

Sandra Schneider of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and her colleagues studied patients who came through the Strong Memorial Hospital's ER last August. After excluding all those over retirement age who already had problems that might make them likely to end up in a nursing home, the researchers focused on 277 patients.

Those who had to wait more than six hours to get admitted were more than four times as likely to end up in nursing homes after being discharged: Eighteen percent versus 4 percent never made it home again.

The study didn't examine why. But the researchers suspect it's the physical and emotional stress. Forcing a sick person to lie in a noisy, crowded hallway of a hospital ER for hours--and even days--could be enough to push a frail elderly person over the edge into no longer being able to care for themselves.

The researchers picked six hours because that was the cutoff that England and Australia imposed as the limit for how long someone should ever have to wait. They presented their findings last weekend at the International Conference on Emergency Medicine in San Francisco.

Schneider says her findings are probably representative of what's happening around the country. In fact, she says this is just one example of one of the many problems being created by the increasingly overcrowded hospitals around the United States.

Let's hear your ER horror story. Go right ahead.

By Rob Stein  |  April 10, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Hospitals  
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