It’s been another trying flu season in the northern hemisphere—for patients and for emergency department (ED) providers. EDs that are crowded at the best of times come close to a tipping point, waits to be seen and for beds climb, and hospitals struggle to handle the load, sometimes coping by putting patients in hallways or lounges. Even well-written surge plans fall apart in the face of staff illness or unit outbreaks. Too often when trying to help the system cope, a hospital, health region, or government puts out a call for the public to stay away from crowded EDs unless absolutely necessary—but are such warnings ethical or effective?
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