For senior citizens, who often deal with multiple conditions or illnesses, a visit to the emergency room can have far-reaching health implications. The stress, chaos and long wait times in a typical emergency department can exacerbate the problem. Some hospitals are building geriatric emergency rooms to increase the standard of care and reduce the number of repeat visits for older patients.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people over the age of 65 accounted for 15 percent of all emergency room visits between 2009 and 2010. The older a person becomes, the more likely he is to visit the emergency room. Given these statistics and the growing size of the U.S. senior population, hospitals can expect to see an increase in seniors coming through the emergency room.
Emergency-room visits are serious for older patients, for whom a fall or an injury poses a high risk of infection or complications. In a typical emergency setting, it's not uncommon to wait hours to see a doctor; the extra time can worsen a senior's condition. The visit is also likely to lead to expensive hospital stays. According to the CDC, 36.5 percent of emergency room patients aged 65 and older were admitted to the hospital between 2009 and 2010.
Geriatric emergency rooms provide a solution. These units, which are usually smaller than the general emergency department, offer a quieter, calmer alternative. Hospitals staff the geriatric emergency rooms with nurses and doctors who are experienced in the complex care that seniors require. In addition to operational changes, geriatric emergency rooms also require structural differences, such as handrails, larger clocks and slip-proof flooring to help keep older patients safe. With this extra attention and specialized treatment, healthcare facilities hope to reduce the number of repeat visits to the emergency room.
Given the increasing need for adequate senior care, geriatric emergency rooms are a growing healthcare trend. More than 100 such facilities exist in the United States as of June 2016.
At Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, the senior emergency room uses elder-specific protocols to improve the patient experience. Staff members use special screening tools to identify dangerous conditions and comorbidities, so doctors can provide appropriate treatment. With this holistic approach, the hospital has seen a reduction in return visits to the emergency room.
For hospitals that are strapped for funding, separate geriatric emergency rooms are not always feasible. Instead, some facilities are integrating senior-specific training for doctors, nurses and clinicians. The end result is similar: better, more targeted care for older patients.
For hospitals, the concept of geriatric emergency rooms is a key healthcare trend to watch. With specialized care, it is possible for facilities to reduce unnecessary admissions and boost patient satisfaction.
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