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Is The ER Really The Best Place to Get Primary Care Quicker?

In 1986, when Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), hospitals and ambulance services were mandated by law to stabilize anyone needing emergency healthcare services regardless of citizenship, legal status, and/or insurance status.

This was instituted at the time to prevent the prevalent practice of “dumping” — refusing to treat patients because of insufficient insurance or transferring or discharging patients on the basis of anticipating high diagnosis and treatment costs. While the implications of this law are indeed very noble in providing undifferentiated care to all patients based solely on healthcare needs and not financial status, it has unfortunately led to many patients presenting to the emergency department (ED) for primary care issues.

The misconception is that the care in the ED is similar if not better (because of increased access to consult services and imaging) and quicker than waiting to see your primary care physician (PCP). A 2010 study published in Health Affairs found that 14 percent to 27 percent of visits to hospital EDs are nonemergent, such as minor infections, strains, fractures, and lacerations. The study found that all of these cases could have been appropriately triaged in urgent care centers or retails clinics.

England has a model that may be a potential solution. The healthcare goal of the National Health Services (NHS) is to “treat the right patients in the right place at the right time.” The NHS employs nurses and paramedics to handle 999 (their equivalent of our 911) triage calls with more appropriate triaging of patients based on acuity. Read more »

Emergency Rooms Overused For Routine Care

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (our government’s name for healthcare reform) may make our already crowded emergency rooms swarm with more patients.

A new study from Health Affairs shows that more than a quarter of patients who currently visit emergency departments in the U.S. are there for routine care and not an emergency. New complaints like stomach pain, skin rashes, fever, chest pain, cough or for a flare up of a chronic condition should not be treated in emergency rooms. They are best worked up and treated by an internist or family physician, preferably one who knows the patient. So why are these patients waiting for hours and spending up to 10 times as much money for emergency department care? Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

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