Emergency Rooms: Worst goes first - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Emergency Rooms: Worst goes first

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July 26, 2007

Albany --  If you've ever been to an emergency room, chances are you sat in the waiting room for quite a while. In fact, you often have to wait hours to see a doctor.

In Phoebe's Emergency Room, 150 people a day come in, and sometimes the wait to see a doctor can take an hour, three or four during peak times.

Brandi6 "A lot of people think it's going to be first come, first serve and it's not," says Brandi Holton, R.N. Phoebe Putney Asst. Nurse Manager.

Here's why, a rapid assessment nurse prioritizes patients based on their conditions or illnesses, not arrival time.

"That nurse is watching the patient when they come in the front door, getting a general idea of how that patient looks, if they look like they're struggling when their breathing, does their color look okay, I mean typically we can look at a patients and know if they may be having a heart attack," says Holton. 

What slows down the ER is the number of patients who may not need to be there.

"We definitely have a large number of patients that come to the ER that don't have true medical emergencies, and that will clog the system up," said Phoebe Putney E. C. Director Dr. Todd Braswell.

 Phoebe's made an effort to speed up the process by creating Fast Track. "It's a separate unit and it operates to steer those patients with minor emergencies or non emergencies away from the main part of the emergency department," says Braswell.

Fast Track handles patients with minor cuts, flu like symptoms, treatments that can be handled with minimal tests. But ultimately that's what the Convenient Care Centers were designed to do, cut down on the number going to the ER.

"Convenient care can handle respiratory infections, colds flu, simple lacerations. We handle simple fractures too, you know we can refer those to other places," says Phoebe Convenient Care Manager Jill Anderson, R.N.

Many simply don't take advantage of Phoebe East or Northwest on Sylvester and Dawson Roads even though they're open seven days a week. Phoebe staff fears patients may be under some misconceptions about the centers, like needing an appointment or needing insurance to be treated, but they're not true.

"Regardless of your ability to pay, Phoebe will give services either here or at convenient care. Generally people with insurance tend to get a discounted service if they follow up with their primary care provider for one thing, but that's not always an option," said Anderson. 

If more people took advantage of the convenient care it would free up resources for those who do have an emergency. As it stands now, during some of the busiest time at Phoebe ambulances are sometimes tied up in the parking lot with patients inside and no where to go.

"Yes, we've had times where, E.M.S. has had multiple calls and multiple patients arriving at the hospital at the same time, and we can't place those patients in rooms and it delays them getting back on the street to be available for emergency care," said Braswell.

Emergency care for life threatening illnesses or injuries. "Anytime that an emergency service is used to provide non emergency care, it's not available to provide emergency care and the person that may need that emergency care maybe a family member or friend with a true emergency," Braswell said.

Emergency room doctors say a lot of the delays and frustrations with waiting in the ER could be solved if south Georgians simply had primary care physicians that they saw regularly.

"There are a lot of patients out there that don't have a physician, a regular physician, and that's a concern because what they lack is that regular health maintenance," Dr. Braswell said.

Emergency Room staff feels that would cut down on some of the routine medical situations they see daily and certainly would allow them to get to those who desperately need to see a doctor much quicker.

Doctors and nurses in Phoebe's Emergency Room say the problem isn't just a Phoebe problem, it's being seen nation wide as fewer people have insurance or primary physicians and are turning to emergency rooms to treat simple ailments.

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