The ER is often the first point of contact for patients requiring urgent care, particularly after-hours or during a pandemic flu outbreak when local hospitals are at risk of becoming overwhelmed. The emergency department is one of the most challenging places to work in any hospital.
It’s noisy, busy, and stressful most of the time. There are also frequent surges in patient volume that can test even the most seasoned staff member. To accommodate the surge in demand from patients across all demographics, many hospitals have recently invested in upgrading their ER capabilities and amenities to meet 21st-century standards.
What Should You Expect in a Modern ER?
If you’ve ever found yourself in need of urgent medical care late at night, you know that finding a nearby emergency department (ED) can be tricky. And once you’ve arrived at the ED, it may take hours to see a healthcare provider, particularly during an increase in demand on the system during a public health emergency like a pandemic flu outbreak. The good news is that the majority of U.S. hospitals have recently invested in upgrading their ED capabilities to meet 21st-century standards.
Compared to 10 or 20 years ago, the average ED today is quieter, less crowded, and offers patients more comfortable amenities, faster service, and more sophisticated monitoring technologies. Beyond the basics, many hospitals have also invested in adding or expanding specialized services such as 24/7 trauma care, rapid diagnostic testing, expert-led care coordination, and mental health resources.
Basic Checklist for Emergency Departments
- Quiet and Calm: The average ED is usually extremely busy, but it should also provide a calm environment where patients and families can feel safe and relaxed. If you can’t hear the doctor because the noise level is too high, that’s a sign that the space may need some attention.
- Accessible and friendly staff: The ED staff is often the first point of contact for patients and families who are worried and in need of reassurance. Hospital staff should be equipped with the skills and training to help ease the tension, explain what’s happening, and answer questions.
- Private and Clean: EDs are busy places, and they’re often a source of dirt, dust, and germs. To protect patients and staff, it’s a good idea to use disposable coverings on chairs and beds, and keep the space clean.
- Well-stocked, clean bathrooms: In addition to being clean, the ED’s bathrooms should be well-stocked with toilet paper, hand towels, soap, and paper towels for handwashing.
- Patient-focused amenities: Beyond the basics, many EDs have invested in adding or expanding specialized services. These can include 24/7 trauma care, rapid diagnostic testing, expert-led care coordination, and mental health resources.
- Security and Privacy: EDs are open to the general public, so there’ll likely be other patients, family members, and friends nearby. To keep everyone safe, private, and comfortable, the ED should have security procedures in place, with staff trained in de-escalation techniques.
24/7 Trauma Services
Some hospitals have expanded their emergency departments to offer 24/7 trauma care. This can include an on-site surgical team, specialists in blood and tissue debris removal, and special equipment like tourniquets and special drills used to help control bleeding.
Trauma care can be critical in helping to reduce mortality rates in urban areas with high rates of trauma-related deaths, such as inner-city communities. In addition to the standard emergency department, some hospitals may also offer specialized services like obstetrics, pediatrics, mental health, or urgent care.
Rapid Diagnostic Testing
There are many types of rapid diagnostic testing, from scanning technology that can identify pathogens responsible for infectious diseases like the flu to blood tests that help detect abnormal levels of certain metabolites or proteins that may indicate an underlying health condition.
Advanced EDs will likely have a variety of testing capabilities available. Rapid testing can help speed up the process of determining if a patient needs antibiotics for an infection or other treatment. It can also help avoid false positives, which can be a real problem in testing for certain types of diseases.
Expert-Led Care Coordination
Some hospitals have added or expanded the use of an expert-led care coordination team, which includes medical staff members, psychologists, nurses, and others who can help identify patients who may require special attention due to mental health issues, substance use, or other conditions that may complicate their stay in the ED.
These teams can help make sure that patients receive the most appropriate level of care, whether that means providing a supportive environment that allows them to feel safe and calm or expediting their journey through the system to the appropriate hospital unit.
The average emergency department is a very different space than it was even a decade ago. It has been upgraded with a variety of sophisticated technologies, more comfortable amenities, and expanded capabilities to help patients receive faster and more effective care. While these improvements can make a big difference in how patients experience an ED visit, it’s important to remember that these are busy places, and patients may still need to be prepared for a long wait, particularly during a public health emergency when volumes of patients increase.