Apr 1, 2009

Emergency Department Overuse - Austin Tx

In a recent article posted in the online version of the Austin American Statesman Newspaper, Ms. Mary Roser (a staff writer) comments on a recent release of information that shows that one ED in Austin Texas log over 2678 patient visits from just nine individual patients. These astounding numbers were released by a nonprofit group in central Texas which provides care for uninsured and low income patients.

The author goes on to discuss some specific numbers in situations which paralleled that of the current state of our EDs nationwide. The problem of ED overcrowding is not new, nor is the problem of overuse of our nations emergency departments.

In her article Ms. Roser reports that between the years 2003 in 2008 there were 9 patients who accounted for 2678 merged department visits in that time. In particular, one of these patients spent 145 days in the ED during the last year alone.

Ms.Roser further discusses in her article, some considerations for possible causes of these apparently excessive uses of the emergency department. From her article it seems that one of the main causes is that these patients have no place else to receive their health care. Which, interestingly, echoes back former Pres. George W. Bush's statement about our nation's health care. Mr. Bush, when asked about the lack of primary health care in America, stated that people do have access to health care through the emergency department.

The article also attempts to explain some things are being done to appropriately manage these recurring patients. One of the doctors interviewed for the article stated that their primary focus is to assess and stabilize any medical emergencies but the problem becomes when they must decide where and how inappropriate discharge plan would be undertaken for the patient. The problem becomes that some patients still don't have access to basic health care needs, and they find that they have nowhere to turn other than emergency departments for their care.

In particular I have seen similar problems firsthand during my times working in the ER. The problem, as Ms. Roser discusses in her article, is not unique nor inherent to any one particular region, community, or facility. That being said, the solution to this ever growing problem is not an easy one to solve. A situation such as this, would require cooperation and collaboration between the health care facility, community organizations, local, state, and federal legislators.

Several readers of this article have left their comments on the newspaper website. I would like to take a few minutes and reply to some of those comments directly on this blog.

One poster (chukalukabus): seems to have the opinion that the overuse of their ED is mostly due to a problem with illegal aliens. As we are talking about a hospital in Austin Texas, I can understand this posters position and concern. It stands to good reason that in this person's region, there are many undocumented illegals residing. These same people, again I would logically assume, do not have a third-party health-insurance, and, are for the most part unfamiliar with public or free community resources for health care needs. I also believe that this poster does not realize that the problem of ED overuse is not a regional one but of national scope. Because it is a bigger problem than just locally, more than likely there are other factors at play here than just illegal aliens using the ED for healthcare.

Another poster (dterbush): remarks that if there were more affordable primary or urgent care type clinics that the emergency departments would not be as affected as much with overuse. This is a good thought. And this may be a potential solution which we are currently watching unfold. There is a growing trend nationwide towards establishing retail health care clinics to meet some primary care needs. Some of the largest venues for these are found in places such as Wal-Mart and the CVS pharmacies. These walk-in clinics, while not a substitute for primary care, are quite capable of treating a large host of maladies which typically bring people to the ED. However, the retail health clinic system, is in its early stages of establishing itself in building its unique niche in the health care industry.

Other posters who have applied to this article have indicated that "Universal Health care" might be the answer as well. We don't know this yet, if it would be beneficial or not. Additionally, as we hear more about universal health care daily, our understanding of just what universal health care is might become different than what we perceive it to be.

I suggest that any solution for this problem is still years away, multifaceted, and will have profound political and social implications to strictly address.

You can refer to the original article here: