Emergency rooms are turning into family care centers, according to a study sponsored by NPR, the Robert Woods Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Patients know they can get treatment regardless of their social status or ability to pay. Plus, thousands of people don’t have a family health care provider they see on a regular basis so they go to the emergency room for treatment. According to a 2016 study, four out of ten people who visit an emergency room need non-urgent care. There’s not much hospitals can do to alleviate this non-urgent healthcare trend, according to a recent report by an NPR affiliate in Florida. Thanks to the 1986 Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, hospitals have to provide medical services to anyone who needs care even if they don’t have any type of health insurance. Plus, hospitals can’t turn people away from emergency room treatments because of their legal status or their social class.
WMFE, the NPR affiliate, put the emergency room story together in Florida. Health news reporter, Abe Aboraya interviewed emergency room physicians in order to hear what they had to say about emergency room overcrowding due to treating non-urgent care patients. One of the first doctors Aboraya interviewed was Dr. Eric Forsthoefel. Aboraya wanted to pick Forsthoefel’s mind in order to find out how overcrowding impacts proper medical care. Dr. Forsthoefel is a six-year emergency room veteran. Forsthoefel got his medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine. He also did his emergency room resident training there. Dr. Forsthoefel holds a Florida and Louisiana emergency room medical license, but he works in Tallahassee now.
Crowding and care delays are part of Dr. Forsthoefel day, every day. Non-urgent care has increased to epidemic proportions, according to the NPR report. Dr. Forsthoefel and his team are knee-deep in that epidemic. According to Forsthoefel, Florida’s emergency room issues mirror other the issues emergency rooms around the country experience. Only 50 percent of the patients Forsthoefel treats get admitted for further in-patient treatments. About 30 percent of his emergency room patients are acute visits, and more than ten percent are non-urgent outpatient visits. Some doctors call emergency rooms “safety nets” for good reasons. Emergency rooms are safe havens, and they are a place where patients know they will get some kind of help even if it’s a short-term fix.
Dr. Forsthoefel said emergency room costs continue to escalate. Plus, finding the right fit in terms of a nursing and administration staff can be a challenge. Some medical staffers are not willing to put in the time and the energy to face the volume of non-urgent patients every day. Plus, managing this healthcare crisis is not easy. Emergency rooms need constant doctor and nurse attention as well as enough resources to give the emergency room staff the tools they need to provide up-to-date medical procedures. Hospitals and emergency room doctors know non-urgent emergency room care will continue to increase even though there’s not enough room or staff to treat them properly.