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  • Science & Technology
  • Social Sciences
  • Life Sciences & Biomedicine
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology
  • Emergency medicine
  • Infectious disease
  • Social network
  • SARS

Contact networks in the emergency department: Effects of time, environment, patient characteristics, and staff role


Journal Title:



Volume 48, Number


, Pages 181-191

Type of Work:



Emergency departments play a critical role in the public health system, particularly in times of pandemic. Infectious patients presenting to emergency departments bring a risk of cross-infection to other patients and staff through close proximity interactions or contacts. To understand factors associated with cross-infection risk, we measured close proximity interactions of emergency department staff and patients by radiofrequency identification in a working emergency department. The number of contacts (degree) is not related to patient demographic characteristics. However, the amount of time in close proximity (weighted degree) of patients with ED personnel did differ, with black patients having approximately 15 min more contact with staff than non-white patients. Patients arriving by EMS had fewer contacts with other patients than patients arriving by other means. There are differences in the number of contacts based on staff role and arrival mode. When crowding is low, providers have the most contact time with patients, while administrative staff have the least. However, when crowding is high, this differential is reversed. The effect of arrival mode is modified by the extent of crowding. When crowding is low, patients arriving by EMS had longer contact with administrative staff, compared to patients arriving by other means. However, when crowding is high, patients arriving by EMS had less contact with administrative staff compared to patients arriving by other means. Our findings should help designers of emergency care focus on higher risk situations for transmission of dangerous pathogens in an emergency department. For instance, the effects of arrival and crowding should be considered as targets for engineering or architectural interventions that could artificially increase social distances.
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