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Miriam Schimmel
Miriam Schimmel
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Emergency Room Care Problems Rising

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When you seek medical attention from a hospital emergency room, are you at risk for further injuries or even death BEFORE ever receiving treatment?

While much of the current health care debate centers on seeking a solution to the problem of getting coverage to the uninsured and the underinsured (those who have health care insurance, but the coverage fails to provide them with adequate and affordable medical care), another seriou health care issue has quietly been growing: the reduction of the number of emergency rooms and the increasingly negative impact it is having on patient care. In fact, the L.A. Times reported just last week that a study recently conducted by Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School reveals the following statistics:

 The wait time for a patient to be examined in an emergency room has increased from 22 minutes to 30 minutes, or longer – a 36% rise from 1997 to 2004.

 Half of emergency room patients suffering from heart attacks now wait 20 minutes or longer, more than twice as long as the eight minute average wait in 1997.

 Emergency room patients with conditions where treatment was warranted within 15 minutes are now waiting 14 minutes or longer to be evaluated. Latino and African American patients have, on average, longer wait times, which the study suggests is because they seek treatment in urban hospitals which are more often overcrowded.

 The number of emergency room departments nationwide has decreased by 12%.

 A 2006 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found almost half of all emergency departments are overcrowded which has had a direct, negative impact on the care provided to patients.

 As of 2004, overcrowding resulted in the closure of at least six emergency departments in the Los Angeles area alone.

Suggested causes of the problem include an aging population, a shortage of nurses, uninsured patients and too many people seeking emergency care for non-urgent health problems.

The result of this situation is not difficult to see: patients with time sensitive conditions can easily suffer unwarranted additional health complications, permanent harm, or even death. While a solution to the situation has not yet appeared on the horizon, informing and educating people of this information is important in order to avoid a situation so that a visit to the emergency room does not result in more harm than help simply because a patient fails to be examined within a reasonable time.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Medical Malpractice and Negligent Care.