Sept. 4 (UPI) -- When a hospital reaches near capacity or just ends up closing, it has a devastating impact on heart attack patients, a new study says.
The closure of a local emergency department can add 30 minutes or more to transporting a heart attack patient, according to research published in the September issue of Health Affairs. The longer trip raises the risk that patients will die or not receive the proper care.
"A hospital closure or opening impacts the quality of care that the neighboring hospital can provide to its new patient population," Nicole Redmond, a researcher at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute who was not involved in the study, said in a press release.
Researchers analyzed Medicare data on more than one million heart patients who were served at 3,720 hospitals between 2001 and 2013.
Not only did the researchers observe longer travel times when a nearby emergency room closed, but the chance of patients receiving cardiac procedures to fix heart problems also dropped by 4 percent.
The researchers found it less likely that angioplasty or stents would be used to open blood vessels for heart patients, which can depend on whether hospitals have resources for such procedures.
In addition, the one-year mortality rate for patients increased by 8 percent, while the 30-day readmission rate went up by 6 percent.
"Hospital closures stress the healthcare infrastructure, especially if the hospital is already caring for a socially and medically complex patient population and working at full capacity," Redmond said. "As a result, such closures may inadvertently increase the health disparities that we are trying to mitigate."
The new study shows that when more emergency rooms opened, the additional facilities lowered drive times for care by 30 minutes or more and the death rate by 5 percent. Also, patients had a 12 percent higher likelihood of having a cardiac procedure performed.
"We now have evidence that hospital closures affect other hospitals, and they do so in different ways," said Renee Hsia, an emergency physician at San Francisco General Hospital and study lead author. "Hospitals that are already crowded will likely be unable to maintain the same quality when a nearby emergency department closes."