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ER Docs Frustrated, Burned Out by Repeat Patients: Survey
Date:6/10/2011

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, June 10 (HealthDay News) -- Americans who routinely turn to hospital emergency departments for non-urgent primary care are a big source of frustration and stress for the doctors who run those facilities, a new national survey reveals.

Roughly 90 percent of ER doctors polled said that the frequent draining of emergency resources and staff to manage chronic medical and social issues is a problem and a challenge.

"What we found is that emergency department doctors recognize that this is a problem and are asking for help," said study author Jennifer Peltzer-Jones, a clinical psychologist and registered nurse in the department of emergency medicine at Henry Ford Hospital, in Detroit. In some cases, patients are coming back 20, 30 or 40 times a year, she added.

"Most, 97 percent, of physicians stated that they have frequent users," she said. "So, this is a national problem."

While more than two-thirds said that hospital administrators need to implement programs to manage the problem, fewer than one-third said their hospitals had actually done so.

The result: a drop in empathy for frequent-use patients, coupled with a rise in physician burnout.

The researchers, who defined frequent ER users as those seeking emergency room care 10 or more times a year, presented their findings recently at a meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.

A lack of medical insurance is not always the prime motivation for seeking care in an ER setting, the researchers found. Frequent users, they said, often struggle with a chronic medical condition while lacking easy access to a primary care doctor or specialist. In some cases, homelessness and lack of transportation resources play a role. Substance abuse and psychiatric illness were also cited.

Between July and October 2010, the researchers polled 1,000 members of the American College of Emergency Physicians,
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