Emergency Department Volume, Severity, and Crowding Since the Onset of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Annals of emergency medicine




STUDY OBJECTIVE: We describe emergency department (ED) visit volume, illness severity, and crowding metrics from the onset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic through mid-2022. METHODS: We tabulated monthly data from 14 million ED visits on ED volumes and measures of illness severity and crowding from March 2020 through August 2022 compared with the same months in 2019 in 111 EDs staffed by a national ED practice group in 18 states. RESULTS: Average monthly ED volumes fell in the early pandemic, partially recovered in 2022, but remained below 2019 levels (915 per ED in 2019 to 826.6 in 2022 for admitted patients; 3,026.9 to 2,478.5 for discharged patients). The proportion of visits assessed as critical care increased from 7.9% in 2019 to 11.0% in 2022, whereas the number of visits decreased (318,802 to 264,350). Visits billed as 99285 (the highest-acuity Evaluation and Management code for noncritical care visits) increased from 35.4% of visits in 2019 to 40.0% in 2022, whereas the number of visits decreased (1,434,454 to 952,422). Median and median of 90th percentile length of stay for admitted patients rose 32% (5.2 to 6.9 hours) and 47% (11.7 to 17.4 hours) in 2022 versus 2019. Patients leaving without treatment rose 86% (2.9% to 5.4%). For admitted psychiatric patients, the 90th percentile length of stay increased from 20 hours to more than 1 day. CONCLUSION: ED visit volumes fell early in the pandemic and have only partly recovered. Despite lower volumes, ED crowding has increased. This issue is magnified in psychiatric patients.


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