Emergency rooms improve "look" but what about medical care?

Over the past few years, several hospitals in the Pittsburgh area have invested millions of dollars to “spruce up” their emergency rooms. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11342/1195428-455.stm While some of this may be motivated by legitimate need, there is no question that marketing and public relations play a role in improving the atmosphere, emergency rooms are high volume, and likely high profit, areas for the hospital, and they no doubt have figured out if you create a nice “feel” in the room, it is more likely that people will use your emergency room than some competitor’s.

Certainly it is nice to go an emergency room and have a comfortable area to sit and perhaps view a television, but no doubt what patients are most interested in receiving is good medical care. Over the years, a very high percentage of our medical malpractice cases have occurred in emergency room in various Pittsburgh hospitals. Some of the most common cases involve the failure to diagnose heart attacks and strokes; the failure to detect head trauma and other brain injuries such as blood clots, and also “missed” fractures on x-rays. Medication errors also occur with regularity in the emergency room. These medical mistakes often lead to a variety of personal injury and wrongful death claims.

Hospitals would do well to focus on improving some of their systems in the emergency room and not merely adding a fresh coat of pain to the waiting area. By their very nature, emergency rooms are high-traffic areas of the hospital and, sadly, the shuffling of patients from doctor-to-nurse and back-and-forth and often leads to mistakes.

Also hospitals, and patients, can benefit from improved systems to prioritize patients according to how serious their condition is. The medical term for this is “triage.” It is just common sense that people who come in with a potential heart attack or stroke should be given far more attention than someone with an ankle sprain. Some hospitals have developed “fast track” programs to take care of more routine, simple illnesses and other dedicated “tracks” to take of cardiac or neurologic problems.

Another problem in emergency rooms is the training and experience of the doctors. Many hospitals, particularly those outside of metropolitan Pittsburgh, are not staffed by Board certified emergency physicians. Instead, they may have family doctors who are simply “moonlighting” in the E.R. Additionally, some emergency rooms are not fully staffed during the evening or over-night hours.

Yes, it is nice to be in an emergency room that has been “spruced up,” but more than that, patients want to be in an emergency room that has first-quality care. In short, most people would take a great doctor over a comfortable sofa any day.