Healthcare Technology Featured Article

November 07, 2012

Patients in Australia Go to Hospital Emergency Rooms, despite Contrary Advice from Health Call Centers

Many Australians appear to visit hospital emergency rooms even though contact centers representatives tells them not to go, based on conditions.

According to a new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, about half of Australian patients who contacted a call center about conditions, still went to the emergency department, according to a report in Beckers Hospital Review.

The study looked at patterns among patients at Royal Perth Hospital in Western Australia from August 2008 to April 2009.

Data from healthdirect Australia, a national health call center, was also used in the study. Nurses at the call center give patients triage, advice and information.

Appropriate referrals to the hospital required one of the following: Patient was admitted to hospital. Patient was transferred to another hospital. Patient was seen by an inpatient health team for an assessment. Patient was referred to an outpatient clinic. Patient died in the emergency room.  Patient needed radiological or lab investigations.

Some 72.9 percent of healthdirect-referred patients had “appropriate” referrals, compared with 73.8 percent of self-referred patients and 89.7 of GP referred patients, the study said.

In addition, of the 534 healthdirect-referred patients some 52.4 percent went to the emergency room, despite the call center's recommendation.

One issue may be the difficulty in getting health services after office hours, the study said.

In another recent study, in the United States some 10 percent of non-elderly Medicaid patients’ visits to emergency rooms were for non-urgent symptoms, the Center for Studying Health System Change said. This percentage compares to about seven percent for privately insured non-elderly people, the center added.

It was also reported that emergency rooms are getting more crowded, according to American Medical News from the American Medical Association. An Annals of Emergency Medicine study said the time U.S. patients spent in the emergency room increased almost 30 percent from 2001 to 2008. The number went from 330 million to 417 million hours.

On the other hand, many U.S. hospitals lost business when patients forego treatment because of long wait times in emergency departments.  Frisbie Memorial and Sarasota Memorial hospitals both are using smartphones for clinical communications in their emergency departments to counter this trend.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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