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Emergency Departments - public or private?

Date: 17/04/2018

Emergency departments were once the exclusive domain of Australia’s large public hospitals, but today more than half a million consultations are conducted every year by senior emergency doctors in the private sector with high levels of patient satisfaction.

On the flip side, overstretched public hospital emergency departments (ED) can struggle to manage the ever-increasing demand for their services.

The benefits to patients of a private emergency department are manifold: shorter waiting times, treatment by highly trained emergency physicians and access to medical specialists, inhouse diagnostic services and operating theatres if needed.

“Patients say they value and even prefer the care they receive in a private ED. They like being seen rapidly by a senior emergency doctor rather than a junior trainee, and they also like being able to choose their own medical specialist, or see the one they’ve known for years. This point alone must be comforting to patients with a serious illness such as cancer, who need ongoing care,” said Dr Michael Ben-Meir, Director of Emergency Medicine at Cabrini.

However, for private EDs, funding is an issue. Health insurers regard them as outpatient services and therefore do not contribute any funding for consultations. Medicare assists but this only covers 10-15 per cent of the costs of running an ED so it’s unfortunate that private EDs have to charge a fee to go some way to cover costs of providing this highly specialised service.

Private EDs certainly have an important place in the healthcare of our community. They take up some of the demand from resource-poor public hospitals and provide back-up during major disasters such as the outbreak of thunderstorm asthma suffered by 8500 people in Melbourne during 2016 and the influenza epidemic in September 2017. With its record of providing emergency services since 2002, Cabrini’s ED – dedicated to major donors the Alan, Ada and Eva Selwyn family in 2017 – was able to respond to the call, taking public patients by ambulance thus assisting the over stretched public EDs.

A family choice

“We have found that families tend to make Cabrini their ‘hospital of choice’, so we offer a special ED discount to schools in our local area and we are about to do the same for the pre-schools,” said Dr Ben-Meir. “We are conscious that the cost of care here can be prohibitive for some families, and our schools’ program has been a great success and well received by our community.”

While every year public EDs are expected to meet a five per cent increase in the number of patients, and up to 10 per cent in some areas, private emergency departments have both the skills and the capacity to care for more people. Cabrini’s Ada and Eva Selwyn Emergency Department certainly does.

Cabrini now publishes expected ED waiting times, and the number of patients yet to be seen by a doctor, on our website www.cabrini.com.au. This gives patients and referring doctors an idea of how long the wait is likely to be which, in 2017, was 37 minutes on average.

Bigger and better

To meet increasing demand and allow for a high level of service excellence, Cabrini’s ED will expand as part of the new Gandel Wing development due to open in 2019. The expansion will include ten more cubicles, a nine-bed short stay area and inhouse radiology facilities to improve the speed and comfort of x-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans for emergency patients. The new ED will be well equipped to manage the increasing numbers of patients over the coming years, and offer assistance at times of strain on the public system.

For more information

Please call (03) 9509 1500 or visit https://www.cabrini.com.au/ emergency-department – in an emergency, always dial triple zero.