Emergency Rooms and the Elderly Patient
White Plains, NY (Law Firm Newswire) June 2, 2014 - Emergency rooms are designed for fast treatment of serious or life-threatening conditions. But elderly patients suffering from chronic illnesses may not always be able to convey important medical information to the professionals treating them.
Older patients may struggle to communicate about prescribed medications, allergies or treatment circumstances. This is particularly true of those suffering from Alzheimer's disease or dementia. In such cases, a quick treatment is not always the most effective treatment.
In hospital emergency rooms, patients receive treatment and are sent home with detailed instructions about arranging their own follow-up care. This approach is grounded in the efficient use of limited resources. Unfortunately, many elderly patients require more thorough evaluation than the average emergency room (ER) is able to provide.
Specialists in geriatric medicine and emergency room care have taken steps to address the problem. Recently, the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine (SAEM) published a set of guidelines to help emergency departments provide better care for elderly patients.
At its opening, the publication explains its goal to “provide a standardized set of guidelines that can effectively improve the care of the geriatric population and which is feasible to implement in the ER. These guidelines create a template for staffing, equipment, education, policies and procedures, follow-up care and performance improvement measures.”
SAEM's guidelines suggest additional, improved training to help hospital staff recognize certain factors that play a role in providing care to the elderly. Older patients may need more assistance getting prescriptions filled, and they may need transportation to be arranged for follow-up medical visits. Staff should take special care to communicate important information to the patient's family and any outpatient caregivers, including nursing homes, as well as to the patient.
To accommodate aging patients, hospitals might begin printing discharge instructions in a large font size. The guidelines also recommend that sound-absorbing materials and non-slip flooring be installed in emergency rooms to reduce noise and prevent accidents.
The guidelines stress that much depends on educating hospital staff about the needs of elderly patients. Emergency departments should also develop relationships with providers of resources that patients can use for follow-up care regarding mobility, safety assessments, prescription assistance, prescription education and home health care assistance.
Similar changes have been made for pediatric and cardiac emergency care, but changes to help the elderly have not come as quickly. Nevertheless, progress is being made. Today, more than 50 medical centers have made such improvements — as opposed to ten years ago, when there were no such features.
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Maria M. Brill
Littman Krooks LLP
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