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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 »

Health Highlights From The New Media Academic Summit

I recently spoke at the panel on transparency at Edelman’s New Media Academic Summit. Ben Boyd was the moderator and Ellen Miller from the Sunlight Foundation was my fellow panelist.

Reviewing some of the #nmas10 tweets from the audience, I figured I should provide some links for the anecdotes I mentioned:

Special thanks to Dr. Val Jones of Better Health for getting me involved with this group.

*This blog post was originally published at Blogborygmi*

Trauma Victims In South Africa: Triaging The Dead

I noticed my use of the phrase ‘call it’ a few times recently. It is something I saw on American TV and not at all something that is common in my neck of the woods. The sort of scene that you would get in gray’s when the junior doctor is pumping the chest shouting ‘I will not let you die, dammit!’ while the senior doctors stand one side and instruct him to ‘call it!’ is pretty foreign to our way of doing things. I even got ragged a bit for using the phrase at all. I thought I’d relate a story from days gone by that illustrates this point.

It was the time of the taxi wars. Now taxis in our country are nothing like you might be thinking. They are fleets of mini-buses, quite often owned by people of questionable legal character. Occasionally rival groups try to take each other out (I mentioned this before here). But roughly at the turn of the millennium there was outright war. When the war came to Pretoria we saw quite a few of the victims, but neurosurgery got the most. A friend of mine was rotating through neurosurgery and this story came from him.

There had been a contact between two different taxi organisations. The casualties were streaming in. The neurosurgeon and my friend, his trusty lackey, were overworked and I think it had affected their sense of humour. So while they were getting another gunshot head ready for surgery and heard another four were en route, they were not amused. When the ambulances arrived the neurosurgeon said he wanted to go out and triage them in the ambulances before they were unloaded. And this is what they did.

The neurosurgeon looked at each patient in turn. The first three he told them to send into casualties for his attention. But the fourth…he took one look at the fourth and exclaimed;

“Vat hom weg! hierdie een is gefok!*”

My colleague laughed the next day when the newspapers reported: “On arrival at the hospital, one taxi driver was declared dead by the neurosurgeon on duty.” Fortunately they did not quote him verbatim.

*take him away! this one is f#@ked!

*This blog post was originally published at other things amanzi*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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