Sunday, January 05, 2014

ER Mythology

I never cease to be surprised at the durability of myths that become imbedded in the culture.  Hospital emergency rooms are a case in point.  One such myth is that the cost of health care would be lower if ER patients got their care from clinics and doctors’ offices instead.  Another is that patients go to ERs because they lack insurance to pay for private care.
The latter is getting shot down in Oregon.  Lacking enough money to cover everybody eligible for Medicaid, the state resorted to a lottery.  Winners got coverage and losers did not.  Some clever researchers then studied the ER utilization of the two groups in the Portland area.  What they found was that people in the insured group made 40 per cent more ER visits than those without coverage.
I read about this in a New York Times article carried in the January 3 issue of the Omaha World Herald.  The headline was “Surprise finding; Newly insured poor make more trips to the ER.”  Well, the World Herald might have been surprised, as were many luminaries it quoted, but I was not.
So far as I can tell, the anti-ER mythology has its origins in the time when private practice physicians ruled health care.  Those physicians did not like to be called to the ER on Sunday afternoon to treat a runny nose.  They provided ER coverage on a rotating basis, raising the disconcerting possibility that a doctor on call would see another doctor’s patient in the ER and elect to provide follow-up himself.  Doctors not on call were also mindful of the possibility of missed fees when patients of theirs who might have come to their offices sought ER care instead.
The consequence was that ERs got a bad name that has persisted despite their continually growing popularity as a source of care.
People use ER’s because they are conveniently available when care is felt to be needed.  Not such a difficult thing to comprehend if the opposing mythology can be overcome.
Maybe the Oregon experience will help do that.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

FREE counter and Web statistics from sitetracker.com