Emergency at the ER

I don't know about you, but there was always something about being average that never sat well with me. Perhaps it was because my immigrant parents encouraged a feeling of success in their children, or the great promise that they saw in this blessed land.

However, in many layers of America's life, AVERAGE is as good as it gets. Remember that movie "Office Space?" One of the most memorable lines came from the main character, Peter Gibbons (played so well by Ron Livingston). While meeting with a team of "consultants" who were looking to restructure the company and make it more efficient, Gibbons said something I hear repeated quite a bit lately — "See Bob, it's not that I'm lazy. I just don't care." And while it may have worked for Peter and his TPS reports at his computer-something-or-other company, that kind of detachment is unacceptable in medical settings.

One example is the latest National Report Card on the State of Emergency Medicine issued by the American College of Emergency Physicians. This national survey has given the emergency room system in the U.S. an average grade of "C -". Whoa! No one state got an "A," with more than 80 percent of many states earning a "C" to "D" average. The report graded states on four criteria: access to emergency care, patient safety, public health and injury prevention, and the medical liability environment.

It seems that in the case of emergency care, practice does not make perfect. Millions upon millions of people visit emergency rooms every year, but it seems that in many places, patients do not get the quality of medicine they deserve. Hey, Hey…yes me, with my hand raised! I think I know the reason why: OVERCROWDING!

There are fewer and fewer emergency room departments in our communities. Hospitals are closing these centers because they cannot afford them. Many patients, as well as doctors, are using the emergency room as a default system because no referral is required and patients can't be refused emergency treatment — it's the law.

Many states like Florida or Indiana received some of the lowest scores for two principle reasons: a low number of available ER physicians and the devastating effect the cost of medical liability is having in those states.

So we need to get to work. C'mon, WE have never been an average country. We must improve our grades. But how? Well, maybe this will help:

• Encourage investment in new hospital construction.
• Improve reimbursement for emergency services.
• Integrate technology such as a national I.D. card for medical information.

This will help expedite the flow in an ER setting — the current average waiting time is 47 minutes.

Oh, and please, all of you medical professionals, don't live and think like Peter Gibbons. You are dealing with humans, not computer chips.

And unless they start teaching medicine in law schools, let's improve the medical liability environment.

P.S. Don't forget to watch FOX News Channel. And please feel free to write to me at DRMANNY@FOXNEWS.COM and tell me what you think. Ask a question, share a thought, share a remedy. We'll try to answer all of your mail online or on the air.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. For more information on Dr. Manny's work, visit AskDrManny.com.