May 25, 2008

More urgency in emergency

The Orlando Sentinel reports today about long waits at emergency rooms in Central Florida. The article mentions that ERs are becoming more crowded because of:
"...the growing number of uninsured Americans, a decline in the number of primary-care doctors in the U.S., and cutbacks in federal Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements."
Which basically means that people without insurance are using ERs for primary care, which not only crowds ERs but also increases the amount of indigent care provided by hospitals. The cost of this "free healthcare" is passed from the hospitals to the insurance companies to business owners to employees. But I don't want to solve the nation's insurance crisis today.

Instead, let's discuss, "What is the proper use of an emergency room?" Do you know the answer? It's for emergencies! Not for broken bones or the flu. If you might die within 24 hours because of your ailment, it's an emergency. If not, don't go to the ER! Go to a critical care center instead. People who use an ER for non-emergencies endanger the health and safety of people with real emergencies.

The article reports about Florida Hospital's efforts to reduce ER visits to under 60 minutes. I think this should be the goal of every hospital. And the first step to achieving this goal is to properly label ER patients. If theirs is not an emergency, don't count them toward the 60 minute total. Hospitals, local governments and other community-based organizations also need to work together to provide more critical care and primary care centers, such as Orange County's PCAN centers. this will help reduce improper use of emergency rooms. More public awareness also is needed about the appropriate use of an ER. Long waits at ERs are everyone's responsibility.

Update: Governing.com has a related post on the issue of emergency room use.

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