Rise of medically complex patients in emergency department settings

Although many emergency departments (EDs) across the country are beginning to return to pre-pandemic levels, the acuity of these patients has never been so high, as noted by Kaiser Health News.1 Additionally, the report pulls analysis from the Epic Health Research Network, a national database of more than 120 million patients across the country, detailing that despite ED visits leveling out to pre-pandemic levels, admission rates from the ED to a hospital’s inpatient units are still almost 20% higher.2

“Less acute cases, such as people with health issues like rashes or conjunctivitis, still aren’t going to the ED as much as they used to. Instead, they may be opting for an urgent care center or their primary care doctor,” Caleb Cox, a data scientist at Epic, explained. “Meanwhile, there has been an increase in people coming to the ED with more serious conditions, like strokes and heart attacks.”

This increase in high acuity patients has left hospitals with a gap of expertise to effectively treat this unique and growing patient population. When a hospital lacks the capacity and/or expertise to successfully treat both COVID-19 and medically complex patients, satisfaction ratings among patients and staff can begin to decrease – leading to a higher likelihood of hospital readmissions and staff burnout in both ED and inpatient settings.

“Despite [a hospital's] best efforts to support its staffers, they’re leaving too fast to be replaced, either to take higher-paying gigs as a travel nurse, to try a less-stressful type of nursing, or simply walking away from the profession entirely,” the report states.

By obtaining proper clinical expertise, coupled with a flexible care model that allows a hospital to shift their services offered to benefit each patient’s needs, hospitals can begin to see positive outcomes for both their ED and inpatient programs. This will not only streamline a patient’s care path and overall satisfaction, but it will aid in a nurses ability to effectively deliver care to a larger patient population with growing medical complexities – a win-win for the entire community.

To learn how we can help your hospital adapt to the changing patient population, visit www.kindredrehab.com.


  1. Kate Wells, M. R. (2021, November 5). ERS are swamped with seriously ill patients, although many don't have covid. Kaiser Health News. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from https://khn.org/news/article/hospital-emergency-rooms-swamped-seriously-ill-non-covid-patients/.
  2. Noel, MD, A., Alban MD , C., Trinkl MD, J., Butler MD, S., Berry PhD, D., Lindgren JD , E., Lily Rubin-Miller MPH, L., & Heist PhD, T. (2021). Fewer visits, sicker patients: The changing character of emergency department visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Epic Health Research Network. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from https://ehrn.org/articles/fewer-visits-sicker-patients-the-changing-character-of-emergency-department-visits-during-the-covid-19-pandemic.
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