Emergency rooms struggle with too many patients, too little funding, IOM finds

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Emergency rooms are facing an emergency themselves, according to reports from the Institute of Medicine. They are overcrowded, underfunded and coping with a staggering increase in patient visits, the IOM says.

Patient visits rose by 26% from 1993 to 2003, the reports said. They are increasing in part because they are the major source of care for the nation's 45 million uninsured residents, the IOM said. Emergency rooms also diverted more than half a million ambulances in 2003 due to a lack of room. Another major finding from the IOM: Emergency rooms are not equipped to handle a disaster, such as a terrorist attack or disease outbreak.

"Congress must convene a hearing on the state of emergency medicine in this country and dedicate funding to the emergency care system to support disaster preparedness," said Rick Blum, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, in a statement.