Hospitals: Can Yours Handle Your Emergency?

Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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 diaster 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.