Introduction: Hallway beds in the emergency department (ED) produce lower patient satisfaction and inferior care. We sought to determine whether socioeconomic factors influence which visits are assigned to hallway beds, independent of clinical characteristics at triage.
Methods: We studied 332,919 visits, across 189,326 patients, to two academic EDs from 2013-2016. We estimated a logistic model of hallway bed assignment, conditioning on payor, demographics, triage acuity, chief complaint, patient visit frequency, and ED volume. Because payor is not generally known at the time of triage, we interpreted it as a proxy for other observable characteristics that may influence bed assignment. We estimated a Cox proportional hazards model of hallway bed assignment on length of stay.
Results: Median patient age was 53. 54.0% of visits were by women. 42.1% of visits were paid primarily by private payors, 37.1% by Medicare, and 20.7% by Medicaid. A total of 16.2% of visits were assigned to hallway beds. Hallway bed assignment was more likely for frequent ED visitors, for lower acuity presentations, and for psychiatric, substance use, and musculoskeletal chief complaints, which were more common among visits paid primarily by Medicaid. In a logistic model controlling for these factors, as well as for other patient demographics and for the volume of recent ED arrivals, Medicaid status was nevertheless associated with 22% greater odds of assignment to a hallway bed (odds ratio 1.22, [95% confidence interval, CI, 1.18-1.26]), compared to private insurance. Visits assigned to hallway beds had longer lengths of stay than roomed visits of comparable acuity (hazard ratio for departure 0.91 [95% CI, 0.90-0.92]).
Conclusion: We find evidence of social determinants of hallway bed use, likely involving epidemiologic, clinical, and operational factors. Even after accounting for different distributions of chief complaints and for more frequent ED use by the Medicaid population, as well as for other visit characteristics known at the time of triage, visits paid primarily by Medicaid retain a disproportionate association with hallway bed assignment. Further research is needed to eliminate potential bias in the use of hallway beds.