In Sunday morning's Post-Standard is a story about our emergency room. It illustrates two ends of the spectrum -- one patient with an emergency received timely emergency care, a good outcome and was thankful. The other patient, with a sick child, did what most parents would do when they can't get access to primary care, she went to an emergency room. It happened on a holiday in the midst of a flu outbreak. She received care for her child after a long wait, and was not happy with the experience. I am sure the overwhelmed providers that evening did not want her to have that experience any more than she did.
How and where do we access care is really the story. Emergency rooms are just that, designed for emergencies. Yet with a severe primary care shortage and some practices without after hours and/or weekend care, people are forced to seek care that is available. Are they right or wrong? Are the providers right or wrong for taking emergencies first? It's really a system issue. How do we make sure patients get access to the right care at the right time in the right location?
First, it's having enough primary care physicians and clinicians in the right places with the ability to see sick patients after hours and on weekends. Urgent care and specialty access in pharmacies and stores, while not continuity of care, may play a limited role in providing certain access. The recent flu outbreak proved that with the Health Commissioner allowing vaccines for children in these settings.
Second, it's establishing policies and procedures that help patients have a great experience when they choose an emergency department. Our new emergency room was built with private rooms and quiet natural lighting design to improve the patient experience. What we didn't anticipate was such a large increase in patients! We are grateful and working hard to hire additional staff and decrease wait times. The data for the article included some time in our old ED when space was constrained, and didn't clearly indicate the volume increases we have faced. Dr. Tucker and Dr. Sulik tell me our average wait time over the last four months is now down to 57 minutes.
But, just around the corner, millions of Americans are about to have health coverage. Where will they seek care if we have not expanded access to primary care? In the emergency room.
Thank you to all the staff in the ED who handled the recent flu outbreak, and gave great care under difficult circumstances. We will learn from all these challenges and prepare for a better future.
We want every patient, every encounter, every time to have a great experience, and when they don't we learn from it and improve. That's the St. Joseph's way.