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Use of emergency observation and assessment wards: a systematic literature review
  1. M W Cooke,
  2. J Higgins,
  3. P Kidd
  1. Emergency Medicine Research Group, Centre for Primary Health Care Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr M Cooke, Emergency Medicine Research Group, Centre for Primary Health Care Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK; 


Introduction: Observation and assessment wards allow patients to be observed on a short-term basis and permit patient monitoring and/or treatment for an initial 24–48 hour period. They should permit concentration of emergency activity and resources in one area, and so improve efficiency and minimise disruption to other hospital services. These types of ward go under a variety of names, including observation, assessment, and admission wards. This review aims to evaluate the current literature and discuss assessment/admission ward functionality in terms of organisation, admission criteria, special patient care, and cost effectiveness.

Methods: Search of the literature using the Medline and BIDS databases, combined with searches of web based resources. Critical assessment of the literature and the data therein is presented.

Results: The advantages and disadvantages of the use of assessment/admission wards were assessed from the current literature. Most articles suggest that these wards improve patient satisfaction, are safe, decrease the length of stay, provide earlier senior involvement, reduce unnecessary admissions, and may be particularly useful in certain diagnostic groups. A number of studies summarise their organisational structure and have shown that strong management, staffing, organisation, size, and location are important factors for efficient running. There is wide variation in the recommended size of these wards. Observation wards may produce cost savings largely relating to the length of stay in such a unit.

Conclusion: All types of assessment/admission wards seem to have advantages over traditional admission to a general hospital ward. A successful ward needs proactive management and organisation, senior staff involvement, and access to diagnostics and is dependent on a clear set of policies in terms of admission and care. Many diagnostic groups benefit from this type of unit, excluding those who will inevitably need longer admission. Vigorous financial studies have yet to be undertaken in the UK. Definitions of observation, assessment, and admission ward are suggested.

  • assessment ward
  • observation ward

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  • Funding: Department of Health A&E Modernisation programme.

  • Conflicts of interest: MWC was a member of the A&E Modernisation programme.