Access to Emergency Care: Rural America

From an American College of Emergency Phyiscians (ACEP) press release (emphasis added):

Emergency Physicians’ President Testifies in Salt Lake City at IOM Forum on Rural Emergency Medicine

Washington, DC – Rural areas deserve special consideration as the nation rethinks the way emergency medicine is organized and delivered in the United States, according to Dr. Frederick Blum, President of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and a rural emergency physician from Morgantown, West Virginia. Dr. Blum testified today before the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM’s) first regional workshop on “The Future of Emergency Care in the United States Health System.”

The IOM’s three landmark reports on in-hospital care, Emergency Medical Services, and pediatric emergency medicine found the nation’s emergency care system fragmented and stretched to the breaking point, as well as severely compromised in its ability to handle disasters.

“These forums are critical to our nation and to everyone who seeks emergency care,” said Dr. Blum. “Emergency care in rural areas is hampered by a chronic shortage of emergency physicians and the long distances some patients have to travel to receive care. ACEP wants to make sure that as we move forward in reshaping emergency medicine in this country that we don’t forget rural America.”

The IOM held the first of four regional workshops to discuss the recommendations of the IOM reports today at the Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The day-long forum focused on the key issues of the reports and the top priorities for action. Among the key recommendations of the reports: an end to the practice of “boarding,” where patients wait, sometimes for hours or days, for a hospital room to become available once they’ve been admitted; a significant increase in federal resources for emergency preparedness; and greater coordination among hospital emergency departments and the emergency medical services system.

The subsequent IOM workshops will be held in the next several weeks: October 27 in Chicago, IL, November 2 in New Orleans, LA, and December 11 in Washington, D.C.

“The IOM reports point out in great detail what emergency physicians have known for some time – that emergency departments, both rural and urban, are stretched to the breaking point on a daily basis and are ill-equipped to handle a natural or man-made disasters,” said Dr. Blum. “ACEP is urging Congress to consider the IOM reports and enact the Emergency Medical Services Act as a first step toward preserving emergency care for everyone.”

The IOM began this process in September 2003 by convening a committee on the “Future of Emergency Care in the United States Health System” to identify the most important issues facing emergency patients and make recommendations on how best to deal with those issues. Charged with creating a vision for the future of emergency care, the committee looked at hospital-based emergency care, pre-hospital services and the special challenge of providing emergency care for children.

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