After seeing an emergency department physician, a patient may be sent home with instructions to contact his own primary care doctor, along with a note on what medications to take, and wishes to feel better soon.
By the time the patient returns to the ED, maybe months or a year later, he may think, "Oh yeah, remember that great doc? What was his (or her) name?"
The odds are good that once the patient leaves the ED, the attending physician may not be heard from or seen again, or even remembered. Does it matter?
Some think it does. Now there is a move afoot by physicians to make the ED a greater presence in patient "after-care." Here's the prevailing wisdom: As hospital physicians step up their interactions with patients at discharge, so should ED docs.
After-care is another way to improve patient satisfaction, and possibly to prevent some of the complications that can land patients in the ED again, says Pankaj Patel, MD, an emergency department physician and former department chairman at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Roseville, CA, part of the Kaiser Permanente integrated healthcare system, which serves 3.3 million members at 21 hospitals and more than 160 medical offices.
Patel is lead author of a study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine that showed ED patients who received follow-up calls or emails from emergency physicians reported that they were more satisfied with their experience than those who were not contacted after treatment.
"Patients want the ability to communicate with their doctor," Patel says. "This is a new avenue of communication between a patient and someone who would otherwise be a 'stranger' physician in the ED. That doctor may be someone a patient sees once in a lifetime."