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Private EDs can take pressure off public hospitals

Private EDs can take pressure off public hospitals

Public hospital emergency departments (EDs) in Australia have become increasingly congested due to increasing demand and access block.

Six percent of ED patients attend private hospital EDs, although 45% of the population hold private health insurance.

A study published in the latest issue of Emergency Medicine Australasia, the journal of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, is the first public description of patients attending private EDs in Australia.

A research team led by Professor Gerry FitzGerald from the Queensland University of Technology examined de-identified routinely collected patient data provided by a small selection of four private hospital EDs in Queensland and Victoria and amalgamated into a single data set.

The researchers found that the mean age of private ED patients was 52 years.

Males outnumbered females in all age groups except those over 80 years.

Attendance was higher on weekends and Mondays, and between 8 am and 8 pm.

Other findings were:
• 6.6% of the patients were triaged as categories 1 and 2, and 60% were categories 4 or 5.
• 36.4% required hospital admission.
• 96% of the patients had some kind of insurance.
• 72% were self-referred and 12% referred by private medical practitioners.
• Approximately 25% arrived by ambulance.
• 69% completed their ED treatment within four hours.

“Private EDs have a significant role to play in acute medical care and in providing access to private hospitals which could alleviate pressure on public EDs,” Professor FitzGerald said.

“Patients attending private EDs are often confronted by significant out-of-pocket expenses which is largely not recoupable from Medicare or from private health insurance.

“Whether this hinders most private health insurance holders from using private emergency departments needs to be further investigated.

“Change in public policy that leads to a greater number of patients attending private emergency departments would contribute to a reduction in demand and reduced congestion in public hospital EDs leading to clinical and organisational benefits and ultimately improved patient care,” he recommended.


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