Administration Relaxes Emergency Room Standards

The Bush administration recently eased emergency room standards in ways that may make it more difficult to receive medical care. Due to the administration’s changes:
  • Patients may have trouble seeing specialists in a timely manner. The new measures give hospitals greater discretion in developing “on-call” lists for staffing emergency rooms. Doctors will now be permitted to be on-call simultaneously at more than one hospital and will be allowed to perform elective surgeries while on-call.
  • Patients may be denied care by certain facilities. Previously, patients were entitled to emergency care at all hospital departments, including those not at the main hospital. An “off-campus” facility will only be required to provide emergency care to all if it is licensed as an emergency department; if it is “held out” as a place for emergency care; or if emergency treatment counted for one-third of its outpatient visits in the previous calendar year. The new standards also narrow the definition of “hospital property” where individuals are entitled to care. The new definition excludes areas or structures of the hospital’s main building that are not part of the hospital, such as physician offices, rural health clinics, and skilled nursing facilities. As one commenter pointed out, this is worrisome, in that individuals seeking medical care may be confused or agitated and have trouble determining whether a particular area is devoted to emergency care. In some cases individuals may actually be physically unable to proceed to the proper emergency treatment area.
“This really speaks volumes about the administration’s priorities that it focused on limiting emergency room care and has dismally failed to make any progress in expanding coverage for the growing number of people who are uninsured,” Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, told the Washington Post. The standards take effect Nov. 10.
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