Wherever you may find yourself over the 4th of July holiday, the one place you do not want to be is in the hospital. Most people don’t realize that hospitals can be dangerous places. Danger lurks in the form of antibiotic resistant bacteria to medical and surgical errors. This is true on any given day in the hospital, and it applies even more so on a holiday weekend. As one who has worked an untold number holiday weekends in a community hospital emergency room, I can attest to a few facts that are critical for patients to consider if they find themselves in need of medical attention on a holiday weekend.
First of all, health care professionals have families too, and as such, they want to spend important holidays with their loved ones—just like the rest of us. In order to give as many employees off as possible over the 4th of July holiday, hospitals traditionally discharge every patient possible to reduce the patient census down to the lowest possible number by Friday evening. Combine that with the reluctance of patients to schedule any elective procedures that week that may jeopardize their comfort over the holiday weekend, and you have a hospital patient census that is at one of its lowest points of the year.
So why is it a risk to a patient’s well being to be admitted to the hospital over a holiday weekend? First of all, the third leading cause of death in the United States is medical error, and that is over the course of patient admissions and discharges on any given work day throughout the year. Holidays include their own risk factors such as a lower than normal volume of attending physicians and low staffing across every department in the hospital. Resident physicians (physicians who have not yet completed the clinical part of their training) are staffing both community hospitals and large academic teaching centers, but the attending physicians are, like everyone else, on holiday. Unless attending physicians have contracted with the hospital to provide their services, patients will have to wait for on-call physicians to arrive. Personally, I would rather have a surgical resident who looks forward to the opportunity to do a great job rather than an attending physician who is annoyed that he or she had to interrupt their holiday celebration with family and friends to come to the hospital. It all comes down to the services you will need in order to recover. Will it be a routine procedure that can easily be handled by a surgical resident? Or, do you need a procedure that requires the experience and expertise of an attending physician in order to achieve a successful outcome?
The same holds true for the medical service. Are your symptoms of the classic variety that are easy to identify and diagnose? Or, would they perplex even the most seasoned clinicians? If you fall into the latter categories in either the surgical or medical service, it may possibly spell trouble for you on a holiday weekend.
As a patient in the emergency room, instead of a guest enjoying a backyard barbeque, there are a few things you should remember. First of all, one might expect that very few people find their way to the emergency room on a major holiday. Everyone wants to be with family and friends instead of waiting to be evaluated at their local hospital. However, if you do need to come to the hospital, you will be lucky if there are only a few patients waiting to be seen. If you arrive and the emergency room is overflowing, you will need to be vigilant. Why? There are very likely too few nurses and physicians to cover a large, unanticipated number of sick or injured patients. The wait times will be long, and the sickest patients will be seen first. If you have troublesome symptoms and the doctor treating you has not yet reached a diagnosis, you will need to be assertive in reporting any new symptoms to your nurse, and do not hesitate to ask if it is okay for worrisome symptoms to continue without evaluation by a physician. Emergency room physicians only have one pair of hands, and the emergency room is not a first-come, first-served facility. You may be waiting a very long time.
Health care professionals are doing the best that they can with the staff that they have on hand, and no one wants to fail their patients. As the patient, do not be lulled into the expectation that the doctors and nurses always have everything under control. They are stressed to the maximum on a holiday weekend, and they are busy and short-staffed. Diligence is a virtue, but that is not all that is required especially on a major holiday. Patients need to take an active role, and alert health care professionals about any unusual symptoms that they may be experiencing that was not noted at the initial consult. Doctors and nurses are not mind readers, and if you notice something that they haven’t mentioned, do not assume that they have automatically assimilated this information into your medical record. Be vigilant in reporting new symptoms. It’s the best way to assure a successful outcome on days where hospitals are universally operating with a low staffing to patient ratio. If you have to be admitted to a hospital on one of the major summer holiday weekends, go in with both eyes wide open and remain on guard. With a little luck, you will be discharged back into the world of good health. Just make sure you do your part to help make it happen. For this 4th of July holiday take time to enjoy a long weekend with family and friends, and may it be safe and far away from any hospital emergency room.
Originally posted 2017-05-19 19:33:04. Republished by Blog Post Promoter