A First Look at Emergency Department Data for 2022

The role of emergency physicians has been made dramatically more important due to the pandemic. The performance of EDs in 2020 and into 2021 changed abruptly, and that carried through into 2022. EDs weathered attacks from a variety of sources in recent years. Commercial payers aggressively abused the No Surprises Act as a method to delay, downcode, and deny payment for emergency services. ED leaders worked to develop new physician documentation and coding guidelines that needed to be implemented at the beginning of 2023. Software attacks crippled operations in large hospital chains, and physical assaults on ED staff continued unabated.

The preliminary results of the 2022 Emergency Department Benchmarking Alliance performance measures survey found a significant deterioration in patient processing due to inpatient boarding. Preliminary results of the survey are being released to help emergency physicians understand that current challenges are occurring nationwide. These data can be shared with hospital administration as there is mutual need to find solutions to the current ED flow challenges and very high ED walkaway rates.

Patient volume losses in 2020 reversed in 2021. After drops of about 14 percent in overall ED volumes in 2020 compared to 2019, many EDs are managing patients at volumes near those of 2019 again.

In general community EDs, the decrease in visits by patients under age 18 bounced back from about 13 percent in 2021 to about 15 percent in 2022. The resurgence of respiratory syncytial virus and respiratory infections other than COVID-19 may explain this.

Patient arrival by EMS increased and more of those patients were admitted. About 20 percent of ED arrivals in 2022 came by ambulance, and 36 percent of those EMS patients were subsequently admitted, compared to about 14 percent of ambulatory arrivals.

ED patient throughput improved in 2022 in some regards, which is an incredible accomplishment in a very difficult year. Median “door to doctor” time remained steady at about 14 minutes. Long-term trends of improving ED patient intake remain intact, as times decreased in most years since 2008, when the intake time was about 41 minutes.

All ED patient-processing times increased remarkably in EDs, related to lengthy hospital boarding times. This necessarily increased ED walkaway rates. The overall length of stay for all ED patients increased to 199 minutes in 2022, up from 182 minutes in 2018 (see graph above).