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Emergency Rooms Report Dire Shortage of Specialists

Almost three-quarters of emergency department directors say they have inadequate on-call specialist coverage

THURSDAY, May 4 (HealthDay News) -- About three in four emergency department directors report inadequate on-call specialist coverage at their facilities in 2005, compared with two in three directors who reported the problem in 2004, according to a new report from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

The study data, released by the ACEP in conjunction with researchers from Johns Hopkins University and funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was drawn from questionnaires sent to 2,343 emergency department medical directors between August and November of 2005. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the respondents reported inadequate on-call specialist coverage, compared with two-thirds who reported the same in 2004. The problem affected hospitals of all sizes.

The respondents reported the most shortages in orthopedics, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, ear, nose and throat, and hand surgery. Also, 45 percent of directors reported that patients were leaving the emergency department without being seen, compared with 29 percent in 2004. Half the respondents reported that one to five patients a day were admitted to the hospital when there were no beds available for them.

"These survey findings are evidence of further strain on an already frayed health care system, which coupled with the growing demands for emergency services, means patients could be at risk," said ACEP president Frederick Blum, M.D., in a statement.

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