Where I live, two world class medical centers sit 12 miles apart. At either, one can receive medical care of high quality for any disease or sickness one can think of. The convenience of such high quality care is the main reason many choose to live here. It’s not the only reason for Betsy and me, but it certainly ranks high on our list of benefits. We have availed ourselves of this excellent medical care for a wide variety of healthcare needs in our 44 years of life in this community.
So have thousands of others. Not all of us are elderly, but many are.
Nowhere is patient demand more obvious than in the Emergency Departments at these neighboring large and versatile teaching hospitals. Show up at the one nearest our home with a nosebleed or heart attack, and you are in for a visit of several hours. Eight to 12 of them are common, and a visit lasting overnight is not unusual.
Hard-working teams of physicians and their associated medical professionals are running tests, awaiting results, making decisions, all in order to diagnose and prescribe care for you, the patient. They are overworked, shifts change, and patients’ care is handed from one team to another.
The patient is alone during all this activity and waiting, often for hours, until the next test. Loved ones cannot visit. If a patient is admitted and placed in a room, and this is not always assured, only then can a family member come to the patient’s bedside.
What can possibly go wrong? Plenty, according to reliable studies. There is an abundance of research that illustrates the negative consequences of emergency department crowding for patients, staff and the healthcare system. A significant finding of one study is that elderly patients with complex, life-threatening conditions are an increasingly important driver of emergency department crowding.
Demand has become too great for available supply. When this happens, everyone loses, both providers and patients.
Early this afternoon Betsy, my dear bride, reported chest pains and nausea and was rushed to the emergency department. Two nights ago, she complained of chest pains, was rushed there, was thoroughly tested, cared for, and eventually discharged more than 12 hours later. She did not have a heart attack, doctors concluded.
This time, her primary physician suggested adding a stress test to her emergency department care. Betsy can’t stand alone or walk.Can’t take a single step. It’s hard to imagine how a stress test will work for her with these physical limitations, but I trust that doctors will think of something.
Between caring for all of those other patients.
And I wait for a phone call.