Nationwide optimization of the emergency department (ED) landscape is being discussed in The Netherlands. The emphasis is put mostly on the number of EDs actually present at the time versus a proposed minimum number of EDs needed in the future. The predominant idea in general is that by concentrating emergency care in less EDs costs would be saved and quality of care would increase. However, structural insight into similarities as well as differences of ED characteristics is missing. This knowledge and fact interpretation is needed to provide better steering information which could contribute to strategies aiming to optimize the ED landscape. This study provides an in-depth insight in the ED landscape of The Netherlands by presentation of providing an overview of the variation in ED characteristics and by exploring associations between ED volume characteristics on one side and measures of available ED and hospital resources on the other side. Obtained insight can be a starting point towards a more well-founded future optimization policy.
This is a nationwide cross-sectional observational study. All 24/7 operational EDs meeting the IFEM definition in The Netherlands in December 2016 were identified, contacted and surveyed. Requested information was retrieved from local hospital information systems and entered into a database. Till August 1, 2017, data have been collected.
All 87 eligible EDs in The Netherlands participated in this study (100%). All of them were hospital based. These were 8 EDs in universities (9%), 27 EDs in teaching hospitals (31%) and 52 EDs in general hospitals (60%). On average, 22,755 patients were seen per ED (range 6082–53,196). On average, 85% (range 44–99%) was referred versus 15% self-referred (range 1–56%). Further subdivision of the referred patients showed 17% ‘emergency call’ (range 0.5–30%), 52% by GPC (range 16–77%) and 15% other referral (range 1–52%). On average, 38% of patients per ED (range 13–76%) were hospitalized. ED treatment bays ranged from 4 to 36 and added nationally up to 1401 (mean and median of 16 per ED). The number of hospital beds behind these EDs ranged from 104 to 1339 and added up to 36,630 beds nationally (mean of 421 and median of 375 behind each ED). Information about ED nurse workforce was available for 83 of 87 EDs and ranged from 11 to 65, adding up to 2348 fulltime-equivalent nationally (mean of 28 and median of 27 per ED).
We found positive and significant correlations, confirming all formulated hypotheses. The strongest correlation was seen between the number of patients seen in the ED and ED nurse workforce, followed by the number of patients seen in the ED and ED treatment bays. The other hypotheses showed less positive significant correlations.
Our study shows that the ED landscape is still pluriform by numbers and specifications of individual ED locations. This study identifies associations between patient and hospitalization volumes on a national level on one side and number of ED treatment bays, ED nurse workforce capacity and available hospital beds on the other side. These findings might be useful as input for the development of an ED resource allocation framework and a more targeted optimization policy in the future.