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Acad Emerg Med. 2010 May;17(5):501-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1553-2712.2010.00738.x.

Emergency department patient volume and troponin laboratory turnaround time.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY, USA.



Increases in emergency department (ED) visits may place a substantial burden on both the ED and hospital-based laboratories. Studies have identified laboratory turnaround time (TAT) as a barrier to patient process times and lengths of stay. Prolonged laboratory study results may also result in delayed recognition of critically ill patients and initiation of appropriate therapies. The objective of this study was to determine how ED patient volume itself is associated with laboratory TAT.


This was a retrospective cohort review of patients at five academic, tertiary care EDs in the United States. Data were collected on all adult patients seen in each ED with troponin laboratory testing during the months of January, April, July, and October 2007. Primary predictor variables were two ED patient volume measures at the time the troponin test was ordered: 1) number of all patients in the ED/number of beds (occupancy) and 2) number of admitted patients waiting for beds/beds (boarder occupancy). The outcome variable was troponin turnaround time (TTAT). Adjusted covariates included patient characteristics, triage severity, season (month of the laboratory test), and site. Multivariable adjusted quantile regression was carried out to assess the association of ED volume measures with TTAT.


At total of 9,492 troponin tests were reviewed. Median TTAT for this cohort was 107 minutes (interquartile range [IQR] = 73-148 minutes). Median occupancy for this cohort was 1.05 patients (IQR = 0.78-1.38 patients) and median boarder occupancy was 0.21 (IQR = 0.11-0.32). Adjusted quantile regression demonstrated a significant association between increased ED patient volume and longer times to TTAT. For every 100% increase in census, or number of boarders over the number of ED beds, respectively, there was a 12 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 9 to 14) or 33 (95% CI = 24 to 42)-minute increase in TTAT.


Increased ED patient volume is associated with longer hospital laboratory processing times. Prolonged laboratory TAT may delay recognition of conditions in the acutely ill, potentially affecting clinician decision-making and the initiation of timely treatment. Use of laboratory TAT as a patient throughput measure and the study of factors associated with its prolonging should be further investigated.

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