Firestorm: August 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A new trend is unfolding: ERs across the country are posting their wait times online, via text, and even on a flashing billboard. With ER usage at a record high, hospitals are struggling to keep the wait times down, and this is one effort to dissipate the patient load.

According to an article by the Associated Press, "There are no statistics on how many hospitals advertise wait times, although they tend to have multiple ERs in a region, usually the suburbs. The idea: People with less urgent conditions — maybe they need stitches for a cut — might drive a bit farther for a shorter wait, possibly helping a hospital chain spread the load without losing easier cases to competitors."

Hospitals are trying everything from "team triage" — where patients are met by a doctor, nurse and paramedics at the front door — to "hallway medicine," where patients on guerneys are divided by the severity of their condition and given nursing attention in hallways.

These measures all point to a shortage of hospital in-patient beds and a poor system for directing non-urgent cases to appropriate places for care. Perhaps it's time to redefine "ER" so we preserve this valuable resource for true emergencies.

Friday, August 13, 2010

New JAMA report highlights America's ER crisis

Los Angeles is definitely not the only city experiencing a crisis in emergency care. Firestorm captures this national trend, but for those who remain skeptic about the severity of this issue then check out The Journal of the American Medical Association's recent report on national ER visits.

One of the report's findings: the number of patient visits in emergency rooms nationwide rose from 95 million to 117 million in 10 years. You may think "But ER visits will obviously increase with the growth of population, so what's the big deal?" The big deal is that while the number of patient visits grew 23%, only HALF of that increase can be attributed to the population growth. AND as the demand for ERs grew by this surge in visits, the number of ERs dropped by 5%.

So, still not convinced our nation has an emergency medical care problem??

Learn more about the JAMA report in this LA Times' Health Care blog post: Emergency rooms are getting more crowded everywhere, study finds