This post was written by Gretchen Hammer, a previous member of our team.
There has been a lot of focus on over-utilization of the emergency department in recent health policy discussions. Without question, many patients are getting care in the emergency department that should be managed in other health care settings. The recent Colorado Health Access Survey revealed that in 2011, 28% of Coloradans visited an emergency room at least once in the 12 months preceding the survey. Of those that visited the emergency room, more than six in ten reported they were unable to get an appointment at a doctor's office or clinic as soon as they wanted or needed it.
While the discussion about appropriate emergency department utilization must continue and solutions for this challenge must be pursued, we must also remember that the availability of emergency services is an important part of a high functioning health care system. A couple weeks ago, a CCMU staff member was involved in a terrifying rollover accident on a dark mountain road. Thankfully, Joe walked away from it. The paramedics who responded cleared him to go home, and he followed up, as directed, with his primary care provider. Two days later, he began suffering after-effects from the physical trauma; the emergency department was able to provide the necessary after-hours care that he unexpectedly required. The availability of this care after such a horrific accident provided Joe and his family the peace of mind that comes from knowing help is there when you need it.
In addition to Joe, I have had three acquaintances that have needed emergency medical attention in the last month. Thanks to the highly trained providers, our well-equipped health care facilities, and some good fortune, all are recovering from their very scary health experiences.
Often in my job, I focus exclusively on the parts of the health care system that are not working or are not equally accessible to all. This month I have been reminded that, in fact, our health care system does work in some powerful and life-saving ways. And for this, I am very grateful.