Headed to the ER? Be sure it’s an emergency

Tue, 09/18/2007 - 4:27pm
By: John Munford

The next time you head for the local hospital emergency room for treatment, you better have a real emergency, or you may have to pay up-front and you could be in for a long wait.

Starting last night, Piedmont Fayette Hospital began handling patients a little differently in its emergency department.

After receiving a medical assessment from an emergency physician, patients with “non-emergent” injuries or conditions will be offered a choice, according to hospital spokesperson Ryan Duffy.

They can choose to remain in the ER — with a probable extended wait — or visit their primary care provider or another clinic that can help them.

Those choosing to leave the ER will be given referrals to other places where they can get treatment, Duffy said. Indigent patients with non-emergencies have other options in the Atlanta area for treatment, she noted.

Non-emergent patients who elect to stay will be expected to pay a co-pay or deposit for their services, just as they would with their primary care provider, Duffy said.

The hospital is hoping to reduce the number of non-emergent patients it treats, which in turn will help improve services for patients experiencing true emergencies, Duffy said.

“We’re enabling ourselves to do a better job with emergent patients,” Duffy said, noting that the change should “free up resources ... so we can fully focus on our emergency patients.”

Piedmont Fayette is one of the last hospitals in the area to adopt this change, and the hospital has had some non-emergency patients treated in the ER who first sought treatment from other hospitals which have this new policy in place, Duffy said.

Some patients still come to the hospital’s ER for prescriptions, and just checking those patients in can take a half-hour, Duffy noted.

The hospital will continue to serve all patients experiencing emergencies regardless of their ability to pay, Duffy said, noting that the hospital spends on average $11 million a year providing those services.

“If you have an emergency, we are going to take care of you regardless,” Duffy said.

Non-emergent patients will be classified by guidelines contained in the federal emergency medical treatment and active labor act, Duffy said.

The hospital’s expansion last year tripled the size of the ER, which Duffy said has led to a decrease in the number of times the ER has gone on diversion status.

Diversion is a warning system that alerts patients traveling via ambulance that wait times are extended because the facility is extremely busy. Patients can then choose to be taken to another hospital if they wish.

But as the ER has grown, so has the number of patients, including those with true emergencies and those with non-emergencies, Duffy said. The hospital has extra staff on hand to deal with the surge in patients at certain times, particularly on weekend nights and also when other doctors offices are closed, Duffy said.

But even with additional staff on hand, non-emergent cases can slow things down, Duffy indicated.

“We usually don’t have an abundant amount of staff because that’s just this industry, but we do have outstanding staff,” Duffy said.

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Submitted by Eliza on Wed, 09/19/2007 - 10:04am.

"“We’re enabling ourselves to do a better job with emergent patients,” Duffy said, noting that the change should “free up resources ... so we can fully focus on our emergency patients.”"

This sounds like a good thing to me. I have made only one trip to the ER for myself in my entire life, but have been there several times with an elderly friend who had life-threatening issues.

There were always people there - whole families - who were unbelievably familiar with the place, including being on a first-name basis with some of the staff. From their conversations, I gathered that the ER was their primary if not ONLY source of healthcare, and they were there frequently. I heard such things as "Last week Sarah was in room 3 - it's next to where they got Jeremy now." And all the while, their demeanor was NOT that of people worried that someone might be seriously ill or dying. They were eating, talking loudly, taking up many more seats in the waiting area than seemed necessary, and in general just having a good time.

I've also seen people there who just need a prescription refill - one woman (an apparent addict) was crying and begging for "my pills". While I sympathize with anyone who is addicted, her case did not appear to be what the ER was meant for.

When someone in my family has a real emergency, I want the staff to have the time for them rather than be busy with folks who use the ER as their primary source of healthcare. I think anyone who goes to the ER with a genuine emergency and sees how many are there for run-of-the-mill stuff will agree.

Submitted by ograce on Tue, 09/18/2007 - 10:47pm.

I unfortunately had cause to be in our ER on Sat. night and the wait, (I was there for 10 hours), is not fun. Those who are non-emergent are already put at the end of the list so why are they penalized because they feel that their problem cannot wait. I thought our hospital was supposed to be a notch above the rest, this is not cutting edge but rather a little snobbery.

It seems to me things would move more quickly if a intern or nurse practioner did the triage and was allowed to go ahead and send people for whatever tests they needed. That way at least most of the work would be done when the doctor does get to them

Submitted by skyspy on Tue, 09/18/2007 - 8:19pm.

They say there is a first time for everything.

I like the part about turning away the indigent patients. Now if Grady hosptial would just get on board with it they wouldn't need a bail out. I hate throwing my tax dollars away.

Note to all of the Hilary lovers: Look at how our medical professionals perform when they are being paid well. How do you think they will perform once they are being paid minimum wage under national health care??

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