No one knows when a serious illness is going to arise. For some people,
illness hits at a time when it is not practical to see their primary care
physician. Doctors may be unavailable, or immediate medical treatment
may be necessary. Heading to an emergency room or urgent care facility
to have health problems examined more closely may be the only option.
Unfortunately, many emergency room physicians simply do not have access
to all information regarding a patient’s illnesses or prior course
of treatment. These ER doctors are put in a position to make a quick diagnosis
and then decide whether or not to hospitalize someone for additional treatment.
Often, these decisions are made without contacting a patient’s primary
A recent study by the National Institute for Health Care Reform is taking
a closer look at the communication gap between a patient’s regular
physician and doctors present in emergency rooms. The study interviewed
21 pairs of ER doctors and primary care physicians to discuss how they
communicated with one another regarding a patient’s condition.
For patients who visit emergency rooms, they may not know or may not be
able to relay crucial information about their condition. If the ER physician
does not reach out to the primary care physician, he or she may order
duplicate tests or decide upon treatments that have already proven unsuccessful.
When contact is made with the primary care physician, they can both discuss
a course of treatment that is in the patient’s best interests. The
ER doctor will then know what to look for, and the primary care physician
will be able to explain any issues that may be of concern. However, it
can be difficult for both doctors to be able to find a time that works
for the both of them. Phone calls may not be returned; emails and text
messages may go unread.
The communication gap between doctors and emergency room physicians could
have a serious impact on patients. If primary care physicians are not
informed of necessary follow-up care, significant health care concerns
may not be addressed in a timely fashion. This could subject both the
emergency room doctors and primary care physicians to potential medical
malpractice claims. The threat of lawsuits is also a major reason that
doctors are reluctant to work together, as any joint decisions could expose
both doctors to liability.
The study has made several recommendations for hospitals and primary care
physicians to improve the way they handle these situations. If you or
a loved one has recently received negligent medical care, speak to an
experienced medical malpractice attorney to understand the options that
may be available to you.