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The research described in this report was performed to develop a more complete picture of how hospital emergency departments (EDs) contribute to the U.S. health care system, which is currently evolving in response to economic, clinical, and political pressures. Using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, it explores the evolving role that EDs and the personnel who staff them play in evaluating and managing complex and high-acuity patients, serving as the key decisionmaker for roughly half of all inpatient hospital admissions, and serving as "the safety net of the safety net" for patients who cannot get care elsewhere. The report also examines the role that EDs may soon play in either contributing to or helping to control the rising costs of health care.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Emergency Medicine Action Fund, a consortium sponsored by the American College of Emergency Physicians. The work was conducted in RAND Health, a division of the RAND Corporation.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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