Iowa Ranks 11th Despite ER Physician Shortage

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

CEDAR RAIPDS, Iowa - For those who need immediate medical attention, an emergency room is the place to go. According to a new report, however, our nation earns a near-failing grade for emergency care.

The American College of Emergency Physicians issued a D+ grade, nationally.

That grade is lower than the C- issued in 2009. The group looks at several categories under which emergency care is delivered to compile the grade. This report doesn't look at quality of care.

The group also examined each state. Iowa ranked 19th the last time this study came out, five years ago. Now, it ranks 11th out of all the states. That's something ER doctors are proud of. They know, however, there are still big issues facing those who work to bring emergency care to patients.

Mondays are typically busy nights in Eastern Iowa Emergency rooms.

"This afternoon I was watching television, I became very short of breath," said Ruth Naaktgeboren.

Naaktgeboren is among many who rushed to get some help at Mercy Medical Center's ER.

"I couldn't catch my breath, and I almost go to a passing out stage, I just couldn't breathe," she said.

Across the nation, emergency rooms are packed. The study said the reasons behind it include hospitals closing, an aging population and more people getting insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Many Emergency Departments, like the facilities at Mercy Medical Center and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, are watching the clock to make sure everyone gets treated quickly.

"Our door to doctor time, the time it takes for you to come in the door and to be seen by a physician, right now is about 20 minutes," said Mercy Medical Center's Emergency Department Medical Director Dr. Matthew Aucutt.

"Our Average wait time to see a physician is actually less than 15 minutes," said UI Emergency Department Medical Director & President of the Iowa Chapter of American College of Emergency Physicians Dr. Michael Miller.

Doctors said wait times in Iowa are much better than at other places. The report, however, shows Iowa's biggest problem isn't timing, but the number of physicians.

"Currently we are in a pretty big crisis," Dr. Miller said. "As far as emergency physicians, we are the lowest per capita in the country versus any other state for number of emergency physicians."

"We have trouble getting specialist, specialty care," said Dr. Aucutt. "There's huge gaps in neurosurgical coverage and, like, hand coverage is very difficult. We just have shortage of physicians in those areas, and it would be nice to get support from the state and federal level."

Even though the nation gets a D+ and Iowa gets an overall C, Ruth is happy to give her doctors an A for the day.

"I going to have a CAT scan, and if everything is okay I'm sure I will go home," Naaktgeboren said.

Emergency room doctors hope this message gets to state and federal law makers. They said they are going to need more support as the numbers of ER visits continue to increase.
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