By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

A recently conducted public opinion survey indicates many Americans consider 24/7 access to emergency medical services essential, and many of those who have received care at their local emergency departments (EDs) were extremely satisfied with the experience. Additionally, while respondents rightfully expect to see qualified clinicians, they seem confused about the type of professional leading the care team.

Researchers surveyed 2,200 adults online earlier this summer, asking questions about how, when, and where respondents receive emergency medical care and their opinions about those experiences. About 80% reported they or someone in their household had received care at an ED, with a similar percentage expressing satisfaction with the experience. Forty percent went to the ED because they considered their injuries too severe for urgent care; 56% went because the local urgent care center was closed or another provider referred those respondents to the ED.

Thus, 89% of respondents said it is a high priority or essential for 24/7 access to an ED to exist in their communities.

“One common thread across different communities is that emergency care is seen as a trusted and essential service. People recognize the incredible value of accessible, high-quality emergency medicine. Emergency physicians are proud to be able to provide care, whenever and wherever we are needed most,” said Mark Rosenberg, DO, MBA, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, which commissioned the survey.

While at the ED, 93% of respondents said they would trust an emergency physician to provide care. In fact, more than three-quarters of respondents said they preferred a physician to be the care leader vs. a nurse practitioner (9%), a physician assistant (7%), or a nurse (5%).

However, it seems patients might not know what all those titles mean or who they do see when they have had to visit an ED for care. About 40% of respondents believe nurse practitioners can make independent decisions on treatment and 35% believe those professionals can prescribe medication. When it comes to physicians vs. physician assistants, respondents believe the only difference is education level or that only one of those can make independent treatment decisions.

The fact that laws on staffing can vary state by state only adds to the confusion — but so can facility policies. For example, 20% of respondents age 18-34 years use scrub colors to determine who is playing what role, even though scrub/uniform policies are not the same everywhere. Among respondents age 35-44 years, 25% watch how professionals in the department interact with colleagues to infer who is the physician.

Some of these details might seem insignificant, but a small or minor misunderstanding can quickly snowball into a disaster. For example, an emergency physician who is not board-certified and winds up in a malpractice lawsuit can land the entire medical facility in hot water. Additionally, research indicates malpractice claims filed against physician assistants are on the rise. In some cases, these suits include the name of the emergency physician who was supposed to be the physician assistant’s supervisor — but that supervising physician never even saw the patient who filed the claim.

For more on this and related subjects, be sure to read the latest issues of ED Management