Hospitals: Can Yours Handle Your Emergency?

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Where would you and your family go in an emergency?

Most of us have our favorite places to eat and hang out. There is the neighborhood coffee shop where we stop for our morning cup. However, that isn't the place we would choose for a Sunday morning brunch or the special anniversary night out. Each place serves our special wants and needs. Hospitals are no different, but do you know what hospital to choose in emergency or natural disaster like a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake, and does it matter?

Medicine has changed in the past generation. Not so long ago, medical practice was good at diagnosing conditions and diseases, but had little to offer the patient in the way of treatment to intervene in life-threatening events. Thirty years ago, the heart attack victim was admitted to the hospital for weeks as the damaged heart muscle was replaced with scar tissue and the patient adapted to a new life with a weakened heart. People had strokes, and there were no intervention options available. Survival rates from trauma were better in Vietnam than on American highways.

Medical research advanced, and hospitals developed systems to care for patients with life-threatening conditions. Some hospitals developed expertise in trauma or cardiac care. Others centered on pediatrics or stroke care. National organizations like the American College of Surgeons and the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Hospital Organizations review hospitals around the country and designate their special areas of expertise.

Is every hospital the same in dealing with an emergency?

So why should it matter to you, the patient, when an emergency exists? Every hospital should be about the same...right?

The answer is a little complicated and is based upon geography. In larger cities, the hospital you choose could make a difference in the care you receive and the outcome of the event that brought you to the hospital. In smaller towns and rural areas, where there may be only one hospital if even that, the opportunity for cutting edge medical care may not be immediately available locally, and that's the trade off for small town life.

Can I choose what hospital or urgent care facility I go to in an emergency?

When the choice is available, it's important to know what hospital to choose. Most hospitals are equipped to handle routine urgent and emergent problems. Their staff has the training and the available equipment to stabilize even the most critically ill patient. Issues arise after the initial patient stabilization - when it's time to get more definitive patient care. Consider the following:

  • Not all hospitals have surgeons immediately available to treat trauma victims, or cardiologists for heart attacks, or neurologists for strokes.
  • It's not just the availability of doctors. It's the number and availability of operating rooms, cath labs, CT or MRI scanners, and ICU machines.
  • It is the specialty trained nurses, respiratory therapists, and the "behind the scenes" people that the patient never sees (from lab and radiology technicians to laundry and housekeeping).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/10/2017

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