Emergency room waits, costs, surge
The Slave Lake Hospital is having trouble keeping up with large numbers of non-emergency patients streaming into the emergency room. In the month of December alone, the emergency department handled more than 1,000 cases, a significant portion of which were of low priority. The heavy volume is limiting the staff’s ability to respond to minor injuries and illnesses.
“Since our numbers have steadily increased over the last year, the public must be (made) aware that there may be times when they will be required to wait for hours in our waiting room to see a doctor if there is no life-threatening medical situation present,” says Randy Arsenault, facilities supervisor (chief administrator) of Slave Lake hospital.
Arsenault is mainly referring to late-night hospital visits where the on-call doctor must be summoned, often from home. A doctor’s time is money, and the staff will often wait until there are a few routine cases, or a more critical case, comes in before they call the doctor. Calling a doctor to deal with a case of the sniffles is not an effective use of time or money.
“Patients with routine illnesses or older injuries are encouraged to visit medical clinics in their area unless there has been a sudden change in that condition that could be considered life-threatening. People experiencing cold symptoms, chronic pain, that sort of thing should really visit a clinic,” Arsenault adds.
By chronic pain, he means that if you have been dealing with a long-term pain that finally causes you to want to see a doctor, the emergency room should not be your first stop.
Arsenault is also concerned about the amount of health dollars that are spent by attending to low priority problems. The actual cost of visiting a medical clinic is $28.90 while the cost of seeing a doctor in the emergency room balloons to over $270. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in December because people will not, or cannot make the time to visit a medical clinic during the day.
Aspen Regional Health would also like to remind people that the emergency entrance is for emergencies. The main doors should be used when coming and going. Observing this rule may actually reduce the number of people that end up in the emergency waiting room.
“Our emergency department is extremely busy and reducing our traffic flow is imperative to improving patient care,” says Arsenault. “As in all facilities, sick people are in the emergency department and the risk of contracting infectious diseases increases with contact.”
Effective Feb. 1, 2006, all clinic patients with laboratory and x-ray orders will be required to register their visit at the admitting desk between the hours of 7:00 a.m. – 4:15 p.m. before proceeding. After hours registration will still be preformed by the clerk in the emergency department. This step is necessary due to short staffing issues. Employees are already stretched thin in many areas and the hospital wants to avoid burnout.
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