Statistics indicate that the emergency room is the go-to location for one-third of Americans when in need of medical care and this seems to hold true whether or not their needs are urgent in nature. Dr. Eric Forsthoefel works as a physician in the emergency room at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital in Florida and has seen firsthand the result of overburdened emergency room due to overuse by patients with non-urgent healthcare needs.
Dr. Forsthoefel is of the opinion that overcrowded emergency rooms are due in a large part to the chronic lack of primary care experienced by many Americans. He says that emergency room personnel will attend to the needs of all patients that arrive regardless of the degree of urgency. This Forsthoefel says means that non-urgent patients will demand the same attention from nurses, support staff, techs, and doctors as patients that possess urgent care needs.
Dr. Forshoefel believes that this condition results in an emergency room staff that is stretched much too thin to assure the proper management of critically ill or injured individuals that are brought to hospitals. He says that this is a challenge that stresses the entire staff.
A study that was conducted by George Washington University examined the reasons behind emergency room overcrowding and to a large extent agreed with the reasons reported by Dr. Forsthoefel. The study’s subjects were 335 randomly selected patients that sought medical attention for minor issues at the emergency room at GWU.
Patients were surveyed that came to the hospital both with and without insurance and it was found that the high-income earners in the group chose the emergency room to seek medical attention for their non-emergency needs due to a feeling that consulting with a primary care provider would take too long. The low-income individuals that took part in the study cited that either they did not have a primary care physician or it was simply more convenient for them to show up at the nearest emergency room to get help for their medical needs.
Emergency room doctors like Dr. Forsthoefel took part in a Harris Interactive Poll back in 2005 regarding possible solutions to the overuse of emergency room services. Many of these physicians expressed a belief that primary care doctors and clinics could help to ease the burden on emergency care staff by offering more evening and weekend services to patients.
One common misconception that was dispelled by the studies is that the majority of overuse of emergency rooms is caused by uninsured individuals. This has been proven to be false and in Florida, it was observed that 80 percent of visitors to the state’s emergency rooms for non-urgent medical issues had medical insurance.
A long-term compilation of data by the American Medical Association that took place from 1950 to 2008 showed that the fear of medical bills made uninsured individuals much less likely to appear in hospital emergency rooms.
The available data, as well as physicians like Dr. Eric Forsthoefel, seem to concur that the next step in the fight to reduce the need for emergency room staff to attend to non-urgent healthcare needs is for primary care clinics and other alternative providers for healthcare needs to become more convenient to use for a larger number of Americans.