An increasing number of patients are leaving emergency departments without being seen when facilities are crowded and wait times are long.

“These departures may have significant consequences for patients, given the associated delayed or deferred care for acute conditions,” according to a report in JAMA Network Open. “Patients from minority communities are more likely to depart before evaluation, with problems relatively concentrated among hospitals serving low-income populations. This occurs despite the increasing added value of emergency-based linkages to care for populations at increased risk, such as patients with opioid use disorder seeking medication treatment.”

Researchers sought to characterize how often patients left the emergency department before clinical evaluation over time using a national sample of U.S. hospitals. They find that the rate of patients who left without being seen increased from 1.1% in 2017 to 2.1% by the end of 2021. Among the worst-performing hospitals, the number who left before medical evaluation rose from 4.3% to 10% during the same period.

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