Inside the ER

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From left, Bruce Karlin, M.D., Nathan MacDonald, M.D., Jeffrey Hopkins, M.D. during October on Physician Focus

We never know when a medical emergency will occur, but when it does, it’s good to know there’s a place to go that’s open for care 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

The ER, celebrated by such television programs as NBC-TV’s long-running show of the same name, has become a critical component of American health care: An estimated one of every five Americans now visits a hospital emergency department each year, for a total of nearly 130 million visits annually.

The ER is also regarded as the nation’s true medical safety net, where everyone, regardless of age, status, ability to pay, or any other criteria, can be treated.

“Our mission,” says Jeffrey Hopkins, M.D., chief of emergency medicine at Milford Regional Medical Center, “is to see whoever comes through the door. They can have conditions that are minor illnesses, major trauma, or serious life-threatening conditions. But part of our training is to provide care for whoever comes in that door.”

And while “ER” has stuck as a name, it’s really a misnomer. “Where it once was a single “emergency room” in hospitals,” says Nathan MacDonald, M.D., chief of emergency medicine at Lowell General Hospital and President of the Massachusetts College of Emergency Physicians, “it is now a sophisticated department, with multiple rooms with multiple functions." Dr. MacDonald notes that today's emergency department is capable of identifying a patient’s illness, triaging him or her through the emergency department and completing all the necessary complex workups that may be needed, such as blood analyses, x-rays, or other diagnostics. Emergency medical personnel can also call on other specialists, such as cardiologists or neurologists, should they be needed

Dr. MacDonald and Dr. Hopkins, both board-certified in emergency medicine and both Fellows of the American College of Emergency Physicians, are the featured guests on the October episode of Physician Focus with the Massachusetts Medical Society. They join primary care physician and Hopkinton resident Bruce Karlin, M.D. for an inside look at the ER – how they operate in today’s health care environment and what patients should know about them.

The discussion includes topics such as how patients are ‘triaged’ through the emergency department, the training of emergency physicians, the relationship between emergency physicians and primary care physicians, when patients should go to the emergency department, and how to “prepare for emergencies” (yes, there are things you can and should do to make a visit to the emergency department go more smoothly and more quickly).

I invite you to join us in October on Physician Focus. If you’ve never been to an emergency department, this show will give you an idea of what to know and expect should you ever need to visit. And it you've already been, it might make your next experience a little better.

Caption: From left, Bruce Karlin, M.D., Nathan MacDonald, M.D., Jeffrey Hopkins, M.D. during October on Physician Focus