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Frequent Fliers

Hmm.  No wonder health insurance sucks ass.

I just couldn’t help but share this little tidbit I saw earlier today.  Original link from Yahoo is here.

9 Patients Made Nearly 2700 ER Visits in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas – Just nine people accounted for nearly 2,700 of the emergency room visits in the Austin area during the past six years at a cost of $3 million to taxpayers and others, according to a report. The patients went to hospital emergency rooms 2,678 times from 2003 through 2008, said the report from the nonprofit Integrated Care Collaboration, a group of health care providers who care for low-income and uninsured patients.

“What we’re really trying to do is find out who’s using our emergency rooms … and find solutions,” said Ann Kitchen, executive director of the group, which presented the report last week to the Travis County Healthcare District board.

The average emergency room visit costs $1,000. Hospitals and taxpayers paid the bill through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, Kitchen said.

Eight of the nine patients have drug abuse problems, seven were diagnosed with mental health issues and three were homeless. Five are women whose average age is 40, and four are men whose average age is 50, the report said, the Austin American-Statesman reported Wednesday.

“It’s a pretty significant issue,” said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, chief of the emergency department at University Medical Center at Brackenridge, which has the busiest ERs in the area.

Solutions include referring some frequent users to mental health programs or primary care doctors for future care, Ziebell said.

“They have a variety of complaints,” he said. With mental illness, “a lot of anxiety manifests as chest pain.”

It’s times like that that I’m grateful I’m not a doctor or a nurse in that particular hospital.  Because every one of them has to fight the urge to give them some sort of treatment that is extremely painful, extremely lethal, or both.  And I’m not sure that, after the 2000th visit or so, I could continue to resist.


5 Responses

  1. The problem, as near as I can tell, is that they don’t have anywhere else to go. If more doctors were going into family practice, and if more patients trusted (or could get a quick appointment at) their primary care docs, ER overusage wouldn’t be as much of a problem. But everyone in the US knows that the only place to get free, fast medical care is the ER. Which is why you have a baby with a runny nose the next bed over from a dude with a gunshot wound, and both of them will probably have to wait for a few hours. It’s fucking absurd, but until there are more docs willing to commit to non-specialty clinical settings and everyone is insured at the same level, the ER will continue to be screwed.

    Having been directed there a year or so ago, I’ve been lurking on the StudentDoctor.net EM forum on and off. You will learn a lot of interesting things about the study and practice of emergency medicine there if you’re interested.

  2. Amazing, isn’t it? It’s not just that hospital. Most of them have frequent fliers. Then there are people who go to their doctor for everything. We have a neighbor like that. She’s the healthiest sick person I’ve ever seen.

    I’ve said her doctor must love and hate her. Hate her because there’s never anything actually wrong and love her because of the new addition she put on his house.

    I broke my toe. No big deal. Nothing they can do. It’ll get better. Hurts like a bastard but what are ya gonna do?

    I’m limping up the huge hill after work when she pulls up next to me and offers a ride. I get in and notice her dressed in work clothes so, trying to slip in some conversation, I ask how work was.

    “I was at the doctor.”

    She tells me about the foot pain she’s been experiencing. I’m with ya, sister! Then she says her doctor found nothing. Quack! Obviously proving my point that someone had to graduate last in their class.

    “He told me to get a pumice stone. Do you know what that’s used for?”


    “He said I have a callous so should get a pumice stone. Do you think that’ll work because I can barely walk.”

    At this moment I don’t know if my head or toe throbbed more. I’m not saying calluses can’t hurt but I sure as hell am saying that had better be one awesome addition she’s put on his house.

    My girlfriend’s a nurse and we talk about seekers, mainly meds but also attention. It’s a huge distraction. The moment a nurse is in sight there’s a frenzy for attention. Gawd forbid if you ignore them because they’ll tell the family and it snowballs into a huge issue.

    Yep. That sounds like something right out of the infamous SDN thread, “Things I Learn From My Patients.” On the one hand, it’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever found on the internet. On the other, it can be pretty damned depressing, too.

    And speaking of which, if you ever get pissed off at medical professionals, I will also recommend their thread “Medicine Sucks.” I think it’s no coincidence that both this thread and the one above were started by the same guy. If I’m ever in an ER in Vegas, I hope to shake his hand.

  3. I’m going to have to pass on getting into this one, because your health system makes me feel slightly (more than usual) deranged…

    Our system is a long way from perfect, and we have longer waiting lists than you, but noone gets turned away for treatment on the basis that they can’t afford it.

    All of that said, I am certain that every hospital in the world must have its own frequent fliers. It must make the staff feel like screaming! Mind you, the rest of us should feel fortunate that we are not in the position of wanting to go to the ER all those times, whether we need to or not.

    The problem here is that nobody gets turned away from an ER for lack of ability to pay. Hence there is not much to keep some people, whether they’re mentally ill or genuine lowlifes, from abusing the system, whether it’s a deranged person with Munchasen’s seeking attention, and addict seeking a fix, or a homeless guy looking for a warm bed and a sandwich.

  4. These insurance companies “take charge” of these hospitals and it is a mess. Chirstunity probably said it in the nicest of ways. If we could find a way to get these insurance companies out of the loop…government too!

  5. We have a neighbor like that too – after the first few times of seeing an ambulance pull up to her house we stopped being alarmed and started getting pissed.
    I hate going to the doctor. Which has made the past few months even more fun.
    I’m not sure what the answer is, but government involvement is NOT it. Look at all the other stuff they’ve stuck their damn noses in and how well that has gone. I shudder to think of how the next few years are going to go.

    To answer both you and MTAE, in this case I think I’d rather have the government involved than the insurance companies. I’d rather be seen as another drag on an overburdened public resource than as an economic problem with a clear solution from the corporation’s perspective: treat the wallet, not the patient. As much as they can pay for, needed or not; what they can’t pay for, give as little treatment as possible for a given risk of being sued.

    I could debate the state of our health care system for hours and still not have anything really intelligent to say about it. But that’s me. The SDN forums have a buttload of debate with more informed opinions than mine, and they still don’t have it settled.

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