Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Emergency departments are not de facto GPs:

A genuine medical emergency? Then go to the ED. Otherwise, look for the first available appointment with a GP.
By Motherpedia
Date: March 29 2013
Editor Rating:

It’s Easter. You’ve got a bit of a headache and feeling a few aches and pains. Where do you go? The local hospital? Well, no.

One of the most challenging bottlenecks in emergency rooms at hospitals is because so many people turn up who don’t need to be there.

“It’s very frustrating,” an emergency department (ED) doctor told Motherpedia. “Of course, we have to treat everyone, but it’s generally the people who really don’t have an emergency medical situation who are the first to complain about waiting. The reason they’re waiting is because they’re not an emergency!”

The doctor, who is one of between four and six generally on duty in an ED at a medium-sized regional hospital in Queensland, says he is not surprised by official figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare which show that 38% of all visits to emergency departments are GP-type presentations.

“I’ve not ever counted them personally, but we do know it’s a significant number.

“Unfortunately, the triage nurse usually cops it because they put non-emergencies to the back of the queue. In ED, it’s not ‘first come, first served’ – it’s who needs our attention - now.”

There is an Australasian Triage Scale that has five categories of patients presenting to an ED ranging from ‘immediately life threatening’ and requiring resuscitation within seconds through to ‘non urgent’ requiring attention within two hours. Category 2 and 3 patients who are categorised as ‘emergency’ and ‘urgent’ are expected to be seen within 10 and 30 minutes respective.

He says on a typical weekend shift the emergencies are likely to include heart attacks, stroke, accidents, burns, pregnancy complications and substance abuse.

"We are literally dealing with life and death situations which can sometimes require the attention of a number of highly skilled, professional people. That is often another complaint we hear: why did four of us treat one patient? We do that because it's necessary."

So if you need to see a doctor this Easter break – don’t think about the ED unless it’s a genuine emergency.

Instead, check out the online site known as which allows you to search for and book the first available appointment with a doctor, dentist, physio, chiropractor or a range of other health care professionals.

“If even half of the people who turn up at ED went to a GP instead, it would give all of us working at ED a better opportunity to see the people we need to see and perhaps even ensure a better outcome for them,” the doctor told us.

* * *


Note: Motherpedia receives advertising from 1stAvailable. This article is presented independently.

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