Hospital emergency departments are a major part of the nation's health care safety net. Emergency departments report being under increasing pressure, with the number of visits nationwide increasing from an estimated 95 million in 1997 to an estimated 108 million in 2000. GAO was asked to provide information on emergency department crowding, including the extent hospitals located in metropolitan areas are experiencing crowding, the factors contributing to crowding, and the actions hospitals and communities have taken to address crowding. To conduct this work, GAO surveyed over 2,000 hospitals and about 74 percent responded. The survey collected information on crowding, such as data on diversion--that is, the extent to which hospitals asked ambulances that would normally bring patients to their hospitals to go instead to other hospitals that were presumably less crowded.
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