Inability to treat patients properly and efficiently has reached an emergency status for hospital emergency room physicians across the province.
Dr. David Rhine, an ER doctor at Kelowna General Hospital, says ER physicians are frustrated the access block for patients seeking treatment because ward rooms and beds are occupied by patients awaiting transfer to other departments of the hospital.
Rhine is one of several doctors to voice their concerns via video in a new website called www.bcemergencycare.com geared to bring this issue to the public’s attention and an avenue to share their own frustrations in attempting to access care at their local hospital ER.
“It’s not just a Kelowna problem, or a B.C. problem, it is a Canada-wide problem,” Rhine said.
Rhine said it’s not a case of requiring more ER doctors on duty, but rather better managing the flow of patients through the hospital.
Rhine says the delays potentially endanger patients who may have a condition that requires treatment but get frustrated waiting four to five hours to see an ER doctor, and those who do wait often are left with little other option but to vent their frustration at the attending physician.
On the website, Rhine talks on his video about a shift he worked on Dec. 17 where he dealt with two patient issues that symbolize the frustrations of ER doctors.
One involved a 102-year-old woman who waited 10-hours in the ER waiting room to be treated by a doctor, who ultimately diagnosed that she had suffered a compression fracture of her lumbar spine. The other was an 82-year-old man who complained of chest pains but left to return home after a prolonged wait. He was frustrated and tired and refused to return to the hospital when contacted by the ER.
“We are the ones on the frontline at the ground level who have to face this issue every day. About 50 per cent of the patients who are admitted to the hospital come through emergency,” said Rhine, a doctor for 33 years who has been at KGH since 2000.
On the website, it states the Interior Health administrators recognize the permanent in-patient ward access block experienced by the ER, but while several new plans and procedures have been implemented, from the ER patient’s perspective of waiting to receive attention, none have worked.
“Emergency (patient rooms and beds) are blocked by admitted patients waiting for a bed in the hospital. No one is held accountable when ER patients wait indefinitely for in-patient care,” said the website.
He points to other countries such as England and New Zealand that have faced similar overcrowding issues in their hospitals, and found ways to deal with the problem that didn’t involve more health care dollars, although the website advocates for the hiring of more doctors to relieve patient workloads.
He says New Zealand developed ways to clear the hospital bed patient backlog throughout the hospital and found positive results within a year.
“It’s not just an emergency room problem, it’s an issue within the whole system and the burden of solving it needs to be shared by all the departments,” he said.
Rhine said similar complaints arose from ER doctors in 2006 and 2007 as complaints from ER doctors were voiced through the B.C. Medical Association.
“That resulted in a plan in 2008 from the ministry of health to deal with the problem. Not much was done about that going forward and it eventually fell by the wayside,” Rhine said.
“I think the solutions are there based on that previous plan, and what countries like New Zealand have done. They just need to be acted upon.”
Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said this week in response to the ER doctors’ campaign that efforts to ease the patient bottleneck in B.C. Hospitals is an ongoing process.
She cited the provincial investment of some $50 million in programs to strengthen primary and community caregivers.
The impact of that in Kelowna is the hiring of two respiratory therapists to assist patients with issues that obstruct the air flow to a person’s lungs so they can recover at home rather than in a hospital.
There has also been an increase of health car services for seniors so that they can continue to live in a residential are situation rather than being admitted to the hospital.