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Physician Survey Reveals Lack of Patient Safety in Emergency Rooms

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

According to the results of a survey published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, physicians surveyed have identified a lack of patient safety in hospital emergency rooms.

Many physicians say they do not have enough room to treat the volume of patients arriving in the emergency department, nor do consulting physicians arrive within thirty minutes. Adding to the dilemma, the physicians also responded that patients are not being transferred to the ICU in a timely fashion, raising serious questions about the need for improvements.

A physician's perception of how patient care is delivered in the emergency room is an important note for healthcare consumers. One issue that contributes to lack of safety stems from emergency room abuse. Non-emergent illnesses, such as colds, flu, and minor ailments bring many patients to the emergency room, as a matter of convenience, causing an excessive burden on emergency department staff. The problem is, without public education, those patients will continue to overload emergency rooms. Adding to that burden, many primary care physicians direct their patients to the emergency room for non-acute ailments.

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Patient overflow is evident in most busy emergency rooms. It is common to see stretchers lining emergency room hallways, supporting the notion that most ER's lack sufficient space. Staffing shortages also contribute to safety issues n the ER. The survey may be a revelation to the public, but for nurses and physicians who staff ER's, the problems identified are everyday occurrences that seem to defy solution.

The researchers surveyed 3,562 emergency room physicians. Staffing shortages included physicians and nurses – 40% of emergency rooms said they do not have enough physicians to handle busy days, and two thirds of the respondents identified nursing shortages.

David Magid, an ER doc and senior scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Colorado Institute for Health Research led the study. Dr. Magid says, "We'd prefer that doctors and nurses didn't have to deal with the circumstances they work under, but these are dedicated people who have been able to overcome the challenges and make heroic efforts to care for patients."

No doubt, things are being handled by caring emergency room staff - but at what cost? Nurses and physicians also suffer. The survey should spawn some changes that could lead to improved patient safety in the emergency room.