Jul 17, 2009

Primary Care in the ER?

Original article at: http://tinyurl.com/washpost071309 See my points/comments in bold/blue

A Critical Situation For Area
Hospitals
Primary-Care Needs Spill Over Into ERs
This title is inaccurate: it implies patients are seeking "primary care" in the ED. This is false. Primary care (pap smears/breast exams, colonoscopies, diabetes managment etc) is not done in the ED, rather it's people who no longer have a PCP coming to the ED for their acute problems that would otherwise have gone to their PCP's office.
By Yamiche Alcindor

Washington Post Staff Writer Monday, July 13, 2009

Hospital emergency departments across the region are overflowing with patients who have been battered by the recession and are increasingly using hospitals as their primary source of health care, according to local and national health officials.

What national officals? This article mentions none.
At the District's Providence Hospital, emergency room visits increased by 13 percent in the past year. In Montgomery County, the number of patients seeking free care at community clinics designed to divert people from emergency rooms rose by 43 percent, many of them referred by hospitals.

The community clinics are not focused on providing ACUTE care, they are there for chronic, preventative and primary care purposes. They provide a different service line than the ED. That 43% increase are the people that have no PCP and are going there for their ongoing, primary medical services.
... A national debate is underway about how to reduce health-care costs and provide medical coverage to everyone. Diverting people from emergency rooms -- which are an inefficient and expensive way of delivering basic health care -- is a central issue, said Larry Gage, president of the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems.

Don't forget dwindling reimbursements for emergency care are also to blame. Trauma funding is often inadequate as well. Lack of on call specialists, lack of qualified attending MD's and Nurses as well. Also patient "boarding" and psychiatric/mental health patient "holds" ....ALL these things are contributing in addition to people merely lacking a primary MD.
"The absolute number of people using emergency rooms has gone up as much as 20 to 30 percent in the last six to eight months due to the recession and people losing their jobs," he said. "The only option in their minds is going to the hospital."

...also, it's the only thing they KNOW. In my personal experience, quite a few of the folks I've had to refer to community clinics or free clinics had no idea they even existed. (Now here's an opportunity for public education!)

Last year, Providence and the D.C. Primary Care Association launched the ED Diversion Project, which places community health workers in waiting areas to help patients obtain primary-care doctors and sign up for Medicaid and Medicare coverage.
Now this is a GREAT idea! However, don't the hospitals have social workers and medicare/medicaid workers already? Can't the ED care team give these people the information to make a phone call the next day or give them directions to these people's offices? Why do the taxpayers (again!) have to fund this "diversion project" when we already have health care workers who can make the referrals?
Zoila Alvarez, who arrived in the United States three years ago from El Salvador, has been a patient at Mary's Center for a year. Before she found the clinic, she sought prenatal care and treatment for depression at hospital emergency rooms, she said.
Interesting, here is a lady (I'll assume a legal immigrant) who comes to the US (no mention of husband or family) to have her baby who "becomes" a US citizen upon birth....
...Albertha Boone, 55, of Southeast Washington, can relate. Her last visit to a primary-care doctor was in 1989, she said, even though she has asthma and high blood pressure and needs to have major knee surgery.

She said she has a monthly income of $1,400: $1,000 from a disability check and $400 from a part-time job as a clerical assistant. After she pays rent -- $800 -- she uses the remaining $600 to pay for utilities and buy groceries. She said that she has Medicare coverage but that it won't pay for regular doctor visits or for the knee surgery a doctor has told her she should have. So when she needs care, she will continue to go to an emergency room for treatment.

WHAT????? Medicare not paying for doctor visits? I don't believe this statement. However, if you tell me that she can't find a PCP who will TAKE medicare, then I can swallow that a bit more. We need more information here because this doesn't make sense to me.

"Moving forward, we need to do more so that people are aware of clinics in their neighborhoods," said Pierre Vigilance, director of the D.C. Department of Health. "We have to make sure that these clinics are available to people when they need them."
I agree, get the word out, run a campaign or a public education incentive. However, I postulate that the root cause of a lot of this (economy aside) from the provider's standpoint is the whole EMTALA (http://tinyurl.com/emtala) issue. Those of you in the "biz" you know what I'm talking about...the whole legislated principle of ED's not "turning" people away as well as ED's doing WAY MORE than they were designed to do beyond providing the legally mandated "Emergency Medical Screening" assessment/exam.