KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Doctors Struggle To Contact ER Patients As Departments Bear Larger Patient Burden

MSNBC: Doctors in ERs face significant barriers in providing the best care when phone numbers that patients give turn out to be fake or inaccurate. "It's a scenario becoming more common in emergency departments across the country, where doctors from Connecticut to Colorado say they find themselves desperately seeking patients with potentially serious or life-threatening illnesses and injuries. A combination of delayed test results and bad contact information - sometimes from fearful patients who deliberately give fake names and numbers - is forcing some emergency room officials to resort to people-finders, registered letters and law enforcement visits to deliver their diagnoses." A study in 2000 of more than 1,100 patient found that only 42 percent of patients could be contacted using the phone numbers they provide. "Short-term cell phone contracts, declining use of landline telephones and patients who fear big bills or checks on immigration status all contribute to the problem, said Dr. Jeffrey Sankoff, an emergency physician at Denver Health Medical Center" (Aleccia, 4/26).

The New York Times: As millions of Americans lose jobs and medical insurance that comes with them, they are increasingly turning to the ER - one of the most expensive places to receive care. "Lacking any option, they are showing up in emergency rooms, contributing to ever-longer waits and a higher risk of cursory treatment by overworked doctors and nurses. The new federal health care legislation should take some of the pressure off. It includes $11 billion to establish more than 1,200 community health centers to provide treatment - and, one would hope, preventive care - to low-income patients who now rely on emergency rooms for their health needs" (Brody, 4/26). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.