7 Tips for Residents When Evaluating an Emergency Medicine Practice

By Shilpa Amin, MD, FACEP

Blue CheckmarksFall is here, and recruiting season is in full effect for graduating and, in some cases, junior residents. As you start your search for the perfect job in emergency medicine, keep in mind that one-third of you are likely to change jobs after your first year of practicing. That’s perfectly fine, because in most locations there are more jobs than there are available EM doctors.

As the director of our physician recruiting team, I have met hundreds of residents, and it seems that most of you have the same concerns. Just in time for ACEP’s Scientific Assembly, I’ve created the following questions and tips to help ensure that your interviews go smoothly, and, if you’re presented with an offer or two, that you compare the offers equally.

  1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Where do you want to be? If you can’t find a full-time job in the exact ED you want to be in, try working at two or three hospitals in that region until a full-time position opens. This will enable you to work in different practice settings and help you determine your true fit. Maybe you thought you really wanted to be in the busy trauma center because that’s what you’re used to from your residency training, but after working in a community hospital, you may find more professional satisfaction in that environment.
  2. YOUR PRACTICE: What type of practice setting do you want? There are several different types, from hospital employee to democratic group to independent contractor. You should evaluate each practice type from a personal and financial standpoint. You really need to understand this aspect clearly as it may frame the rest of your career.
  3. CAREER: What are your aspirations? Do you want to work in an environment that promotes advancement in your career or do you want to be able to just complete your shifts and go home? It’s a personal choice and you don’t have to make the decision right now. You need to know what your options are. If you are in interested in an administrative career, you should ask about these types of opportunities when you go on your interview. Additionally, ask about the opportunity for mentorship.
  4. SCHEDULE and VACATION: Be sure to ask what the required hours per year are to be considered full time. Ask if there’s a part-time option or track. Ask how the hours per year really work: Are you required to complete a certain number of hours per month? How does vacation work? Is there online web-based scheduling? Find out if because you’re the new kid on the block, that you’ll be working a disproportionate number of nights, weekends and holidays. You should ask to see a copy of the schedule when you go on your interview.
  5. QUALITY OF SHIFT: What tools are available to help you when you are working? Will associate practitioners work alongside you to help close that complicated laceration so you can keep the ED moving? Does the ED have scribes and an EMR? Can you complete your charts from home? Do you have access to support staff who can help you attain your medical license and get you on staff at the hospital?
  6. SALARY AND BENEFITS: You need to review this in detail. How is your pay determined? Is it a flat hourly or based on some measure of productivity? How is professional liability insurance provided? Is the tail included? Ask about retirement and 401(k) accounts. Is there a financial advisor available to talk to if you have questions?
  7. TEAMWORK: As an ED physician you are used to leading a team of residents, nurses, PAs, techs, etc. Your team when you are an attending physician is very important. When you go on your interviews, make time for a shadow shift. Take time to talk to the other physicians, APs and nurses. Note how they work together when a critically ill patient is in the ED. You want to be comfortable signing out a patient and feel confident that they’ll receive the same meticulous care you would have provided. Ask about the ED relationship with the hospital attending staff. What specialties are represented? Are they responsive to the ED?

Meet Dr. Amin Shah and other contributors to this blog at Booth 1333 at the 2013 ACEP Scientific Assembly in Seattle!

Shilpa Amin-Shah, MD, FACEP, is a full-time attending emergency physician at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J. Dr. Amin is also the Director of the Physician Recruiting Team with Emergency Medical Associates, Parsippany, N.J. She received a bachelor’s degree from Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pa., and her medical degree from SUNY Downstate, Brooklyn, N.Y. She completed the Jacobi/Montefiore Emergency Medicine Residency Program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and served as chief resident. She enjoys spending her free time cooking, traveling and trying new cuisines with her husband and two young children.

Tips for Getting to the Heart of Each Patient’s Complaint

By Marc Milano, MD, FACEPblog

We are at the front line of medicine. In fact, in many of our hospitals, the majority of admissions come through the emergency department. And in some cases, up to 90 percent of patients who are admitted begin their care in the emergency department. This gives us an opportunity to have a huge impact on the trajectory of their care. But it also lets us set the tone for the rest of their experience of that care.

Hospital Care Quality Information from the Consumer Perspective (the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems or HCAHPS) scores are publicly reported, and they are being progressively linked to hospital reimbursement. For these reasons, it is imperative that we begin to shape the patient’s perception of care from the very beginning of the episode.

The following tips are focused on getting to the heart of each patient’s complaint quickly and tactfully. Using these strategies, you will be able to rapidly assess the patient’s concerns so that you can begin to address them early on.

The (Sometimes) Hidden Agenda

I remember hearing a wise and experienced nurse manager once say, “Patients in the ED have come here because they have just had enough.” It is our job to determine exactly what it is they have had enough of. Sometimes it is obvious, like the pain of a kidney stone. Often, however, the answer is more subtle. Maybe they have had enough of their daily headaches or back pain. And it’s always possible that they’ve had enough stress from work or life, or maybe enough of being ignored by friends or family.

If you ask open questions and behave in a non-judgmental way, patients are more likely to open up and let you know their real concerns. A good way of approaching this is to ask, “I know you have had this problem for quite a while. What was new or different about it that caused you to come in today?” Let patients know that the more information they provide, the better chance you will be able to provide the best care. This is an effective way to improve a patient’s experience, which will translate into favorable scores and comments on the surveys–which will translate into a good day for the CEO and a long career for you

The “Inner” Voice

The following list is a guide to not letting your “inner voice” come out. We all want to ask these questions but nothing good can come from them, so here is the “Don’t ask why” list:

  • Don’t ask why they haven’t seen their PMD about this problem already
  • Don’t ask why they came back to the ED for the same problem…again
  • Don’t ask why this couldn’t have waited until tomorrow. or next week, or…
  • Don’t ask why they didn’t take the Tylenol at home
  • Don’t ask why they did something inappropriate or reckless to cause this problem.

Again, we are all thinking about these questions, but we can use more tactful ways to get answers to them.

It is our responsibility to the patient, the hospital and the healthcare system to provide a healing environment and create a therapeutic relationship. Kindness, understanding and addressing the hidden agenda are key elements in achieving those goals.

Marc A. Milano, MD, FACEP, is chief of the department of emergency medicine at Bayshore Community Hospital in Holmdel, N.J.  He serves as physician head coach of the Patient Satisfaction Coaching Program at Emergency Medical Associates, an emergency medicine practice headquartered in Parsippany, N.J. Dr. Milano received his undergraduate degree from Rutgers University, his medical degree from St. George’s University in Grenada, and completed his emergency medicine residency at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.
 

Residents Retreat

By Michael Silverman, MD, FACEPEMA, Save the Date Postcard 2013, UPDATED(m)

As a seasoned physician, I take great responsibility and pride in shaping the careers and professional lives of residents. There is a world outside the hospital and emergency department walls – a world of enrichment that is vital to the success of residents. Academic conferences are one of the best ways residents can retreat from the hospital yet continue to enhance their careers.

The 11th Annual Advanced Emergency and Acute Care Medicine Conference held September 17-20 in Atlantic City, N.J., is the perfect opportunity to learn and network with other physicians. The following are my top five reasons that residents should attend this conference.

1. Great Educational Content and Nationally Recognized Speakers. Very few regional conferences bring to the table the name recognition of these nationally renowned speakers, who bring educational content comparable to that of a national-level conference. The broad range of emergency medicine subject matter and cutting-edge information is like having the Olympics of Grand Rounds speakers over a three-day period.

Speakers from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) board of directors include:

  • Andrew Sama, MD, FACEP, President of ACEP
  • Michael Gerardi, MD, FAAP, FACEP, Vice President of ACEP

Nationally renowned research experts and lecturers at the conference include:

  • Fredrick M. Abrahamian, DO, FACEP, FIDSA from UCLA
  • Christopher Amato, MD, FAAP, FACEP, Director, Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellowship Morristown Medical Center, Morristown, NJ
  • Richard Cantor, MD, FAAP, FACEP, Professor, Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY
  • Douglas L. McGee, DO, FACEP, Einstein Medical Center, Philadelphia: Chief Academic Office, Einstein Healthcare Network
  • Frank Peacock, MD, FACEP, Associate Chair and Research Director, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX
  • Charles V. Pollack, Jr., MA, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, FAHA, FCPP, University of Pennsylvania Health System
  • Alfred Sacchetti, Jr., MD, FACEP, Chief, Emergency Services, Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, Camden, NJ
  • Richard Shih, MD, FACEP, Director, EM Residency Program, Morristown Medical Center, Morristown, NJ

2. Procedural and Airway Skills: Leaders in the field will review and demonstrate advanced techniques in airway management, dental blocks and ultrasound-guided central line placement. This allows residents to meet experts and learn procedures and techniques that may be taught differently than at their residencies. Learning hands-on from a variety of academic experts is a great way to expand your skill-set for those challenging patients.

3. Job Opportunities: Part of a career in medicine is the job search. This conference allows residents to meet staff and leaders in the field of emergency medicine and possibly be introduced to practice opportunities. Meeting physicians from different local groups is an opportunity to start or expand their job search.

4. Local Networking and Career Opportunities: Beyond providing potential employment opportunities, the conference allows residents the chance to meet, speak and spend time with leaders in emergency medicine. Many of the conference’s lecturers are available during breaks and in the hospitality suite to discuss career options beyond the job search. Local and regional ED directors and career specialists in fields ranging from ultrasound to hyperbaric medicine to toxicology to pediatric EM are at the conference and are great resources to discuss your career path.

5. Physician Wellness: Physician wellness has become a hot topic in resident education. Residents work hard and need to take time out for wellness. What better way to promote wellness than spending time with colleagues in Atlantic City, where you have relaxation, fine food and esprit de corps?

These opinions are the opinions of Dr. Silverman, and may not reflect the opinions of Emergency Medical Associates or of Morristown Medical Center residency program.

Michael Silverman, MD, FACEP, joined Emergency Medical Associates in 1999. Dr. Silverman is a member of EMA’s Board of Directors and the assistant residency director in the Emergency Department at Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Emergency Medicine and is a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians. He is a member of the New Jersey Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians and is the president of the NJ section of the Delaware Valley AAEM chapter. Dr. Silverman received his medical degree from New York Medical College, Valhalla, N.Y. He completed his residency at the Medical Center of Delaware at Christiana Care, Newark, Del. Dr. Silverman also is board-certified in internal medicine and undersea and hyperbaric medicine

 

 

A Numbers Game: Using Mathematical Theories to Better Predict – and Staff for – Fluctuating ED Volume

By Phillip M. Stephens, DHSc, PA-C       Traffic-congestion[1]

Understanding overcrowded emergency departments is an elusive exercise, but an important one. Emergency department managers are coming to understand it is largely a math problem, with concepts like “capacity over demand” appearing in current literature. But the constructs still are not widely implemented. Higher math applied with dynamic rather than static applications is the best utilization of these mathematical models, and we must educate managers about these new paradigms. What are these new ways of analyzing flow?

Analyzing Throughput

A decade-old conceptual model describes analyzing the problem by input, throughput and output methodologies. But even these models lack the arithmetical power to convey the necessary meaning.

The unique formulas of game theory proven by mathematician John von Neumann and applied by professor John Nash , which are used to understand scenarios of conflict and cooperation, are more appropriate, as human behavior, however difficult to measure, must be factored into any equation. Personal interactions, with their substantial effects on ED patient flow, are simply more complex than the literature suggests.

Consider our local emergency department designed for around 200 patients in a 24-hour period. Typically, this number is often exceeded. But even when it is not, wait times are unpredictable. Why?

Understanding Unpredictable Wait Times

With a 40-bed capacity, a 200-patient per day demand requires each bed to be turned over 5 times during a 24-hour period – or every 4.8 hours. That seems like a reasonably achievable goal, but rarely is the department able to function at exactly 100% capacity, and there the problem begins.

Typically, the department is functioning at between 40 and 60 percent of capacity. To simplify the math, let’s assume an average of 50% capacity, meaning half the beds are being used for boarding. Boarding is a national problem best understood as a facility-wide issue, but typically treated as solely an ED problem. It’s a huge mistake to approach boarding departmentally rather than system-wide–but that’s another discussion. Today we are just doing math, not psychology.

At 50% capacity, the department is down to 20 open beds that now must be turned 10 times in a 24-hour period or once every 2.4 hours. The impact of the boarding problem on efficiency is then clear, substantial and pervasive. But again, this is overly simplistic. Managers tend to understand the construct to this point but ignore the even more pervasive influence of variation. Understanding variation requires higher math.

The higher math is not too painful. Where k is the constant of variation and y varies inversely to x by the same factor, we represent this inverse variation by the formula xy=k. Now rarely do emergency departments experience this simplistic algebraic form, as volume cycles are not proportional. But the three points are:

  1. Volume is dynamic
  2. Volume occurs in waves
  3. Volume’s impact is complex.

Volume rises at one period during the 24-hour cycle while asymmetrically falling during another portion. But rather than apply algebraic principles to staffing and planning in dynamic fashion by matching resources to flow, many managers simply plan for the mean. Planning a department based on the mean results in appropriate staffing only half the time. Managers envision a bell curve when planning for the mean when a calculus sine wave provides a more accurate depiction of the reality. If boarding is the pervasive problem, variation is the elusive problem. It’s like hitting a moving target and is a formulaic fact we must teach administrators. Managers see numbers and pretend the numbers mean something in a vacuum. But external influences and cycles must also be factored.

Consider our example emergency department once again. In 2011, the average arrival rate per hour was 8.54 patients, equaling around 204 patients each 24-hour period. However, the variation was quite broad. The lowest hourly arrival rate was over a narrow period of time between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. with an average of 3 patients per hour. The highest arrival rate was longer and sustained. Between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. the arrival rate was 11 patients per hour. That’s broad variation. Staffing to address a volume of 8 patients an hour is insufficient when capacity over demand modeling indicates that expecting no fewer than 12 patients an hour is required for optimum system performance.
Imagine an ED that sees an average of 8 patients an hour and staffs for 8.3. There already is little wiggle room when 0.3 more arrive than staffing permits, and 0.3 adds up. And when 11 patients arrive in an hour and the situation is compounded by a problem such as boarding that has already diminished capacity, patient volume cascades into the lobby.

But this discussion has focused on only two long-standing variables – boarding and variation. There are many newer concepts we must teach administrators who help manage departments and incorporate them into our thinking and analysis of department efficiency. The new paradigm is a comprehensive view of the multitude of variables that disturb flow.

For example, despite the broad variation of patient arrival, departments rarely feel the broad variation; even when arrival times reach a low of only 3 an hour; patients are still backed up from the previous peak. Why isn’t the variation felt as it seems busy all the time?
Why do things back up when efficiency studies and supporting departments say our departments are at top efficiency, funding and staffing? The answer is found in multidisciplinary research.

Automobile Traffic Research Sheds Some Light

The National Science Foundation funded traffic flow pattern studies. Traffic engineers published the results in New Scientist Magazine . Even in deterministic models, which predicted uniform traffic flow, phantom traffic jams still occurred when a critical threshold was reached, seemingly for no reason.

Automobile drivers making small, preventive-driving corrections (human behavior) resulted in waves of traffic jams not unlike waves seen in water due to small perturbations that amplify themselves. Natural human behavior had been difficult to mathematically factor. The amplification of small behaviors results in a mathematical constant, whether in water, traffic or emergency departments. Perturbation theory has become a mathematical concept all its own. Anything that has flow is affected by small perturbations that amplify through systems. It is why one vehicle suddenly slowing from 55 mph to 50 mph by human reaction causes traffic to stand still 20 miles behind it if the viscosity of vehicles is at a critical threshold.

This also is why game theory models are proving more accurate in predicting ED flow, as they account for human behavior. Perturbations occur in the actual flow, and their causes are complex and human:

  • Incentive structures adjust between hourly versus productivity pay,
  • Individual provider efficiency varies,
  • Staffing motivation fluctuates, and
  • Patient acuity levels change.

Even so, a recent study at our facility revealed that despite the multitude of factors that affect length of stay, volume alone explained nearly one-third of the variation (r2 = 0.28). This does of course mean that ED flow remains largely dependent on the number of patients who arrive seeking care. Nevertheless, we have the potential–and on behalf of our patients and our staff, the duty– to influence the remaining two-thirds of what we can actually control.  We all see the negative impact that small factors can have on patient flow; we must remain determined to detect and correct those that can have a positive impact.

The ironic downside to these new paradigms of analyzing flow is that if we solved all of these analytical problems, there is yet another variable of human nature known as the Pigou-Knight-Downs paradox, which takes effect. Traffic engineers discovered that traffic flow did not in fact  improve when they fixed the apparent mathematical problem by building new bridges designed  to have the capacity to eliminate the backups that were occurring. In short, they demonstrated that increasing the capacity of a bridge to any value less than twice the traffic flow has no ultimate effect on travel time. Why? “If you build it, they will come.” This means the ED that effectively solves many of its flow problems will realize more flow to its department – just as people adjust driving patterns to a newer, bigger bridge to get to work–and throughput times may paradoxically be no better than before.

The overarching point is that we don’t currently measure emergency department efficiency with the needed sophistication.

We also, despite sharing similar problems, do not approach flow with the sophistication of the traffic engineers. We simply measure what is easiest to measure.
By increasing the sophistication of our methodology for understanding flow, and by subsequently educating administrators about these new paradigms, we can instill a new way of thinking about how we manage ED flow. Paradoxes notwithstanding, the effort will be worth it–for our hospitals, for ourselves, and for our patients.

Phillip Stephens, DHSc, PA-C, is the associate practitioner site director for Emergency Medical Associates at Southeastern Regional Medical Center, Lumberton, N.C. He is adjunct faculty at A.T. Still University in Mesa, Ariz., and has practiced as an emergency medicine physician assistant for more than 20 years.

The Business of Saving Lives

By Shilpa Amin, MD, FACEPDoctors discussing a patient's medical chart.

As part of the recruiting team for an emergency medicine practice, I’ve had the opportunity for potential new hires to shadow me during shifts. These physicians come from various residency programs, big and small, urban and rural. After a busy shift, they all say the same thing: “Wow, it was so busy, but it didn’t feel that busy. That’s amazing.” I smile when I hear that.

As an ED physician, I can never be sure what my shift will consist of, but regardless of what the day brings, I know it will run more smoothly because of the tools my practice provides its physicians.

Tool #1 Associate Practitioners (APs): Our PAs and NPs are a direct extension of our care. They work very closely with us and help manage the large patient volume. They are excellent with procedures such as laceration repair and splinting. We count on our APs to help manage the ED flow and disposition. They handle multiple patients at a time and will discuss each case with the patient’s primary medical doctor and call appropriate consults.

Tool #2 Medical Scribes: Our medical scribes, called clinical information managers (CIMs), are priceless. They are essentially “super scribes” and are integral partners in our patient care.  I frequently bring the scribe to the bedside with me so she can document the history and physical in real time. We can then move on to the next patient and increase our efficiency. She will then follow up on labs, radiology and previous testing performed in other hospitals. This allows me to spend more time with my patients. Our scribes undergo intensive training at our corporate headquarters, where they learn not only about medical dictation but also the medico-legal aspects of charting. In one ED where I work, nine out of our 11 scribes are leaving for medical school in July! And they are not the first. Several of our CIMS have returned as residents and a few have actually joined our practice a few years later.

Tool #3 Our Electronic Medical Record: Our practice developed its own electronic medical record, called EDIMS, to increase efficiency in the ED. It is a boutique EMR designed and created by ED physicians. It’s an easy-to-navigate full suite system that includes order entry, lab results, discharge instructions and prescriptions as well as the clinical chart. We are even able to fax the patient’s note from the system to his or her primary care physician.

 Tool #4 Bedside Orders: Often when I initially see a patient I will bring a tablet or computer on wheels (COW) with me so I can place bedside orders. The tablet also is useful because I can show patients their X-rays and lab results.

Tool #5 Partnership: I didn’t fully understand the benefits of becoming a partner in the practice until I was at the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) annual meeting and met up with a friend from residency who had worked in three different EDs in less than three years. When I asked him why he kept moving around, he said that the work environment was not as collegial as he expected. He didn’t enjoy going to work. Our practice has created a culture of collaboration. I understand the rarity and feel fortunate that I can ask any of my partners during a shift to review an X-ray or EKG, or jump in and help if I have a critically ill patient.

It’s a blessing to find a job that provides the tools for success. As a physician, I’m in the business of saving lives. It is my goal to make sure the sick injured and worried patients who enter the emergency department leave the hospital healthier and happier than when they arrived.

I feel very fortunate to have the tools I need to succeed.

Shilpa Amin-Shah, MD, FACEP,  is a full-time attending emergency physician at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J. Dr. Amin is also the Director of the Physician Recruiting Team with Emergency Medical Associates, Parsippany, N.J. She received a bachelor’s degree from Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pa., and her medical degree from SUNY Downstate, Brooklyn, N.Y. She completed the Jacobi/Montefiore Emergency Medicine Residency Program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and served as chief resident. She enjoys spending her free time cooking, traveling and trying new cuisines with her husband and two young children.

Medical School Perspective Through the Eyes of a Scribe

By Chaz Sineri    Sineri Charles

Life Before Medical School

I’ll never forget that day.

I was sitting in the ED typing a chart for a 75-year-old nursing home patient with CHF when I got that long-awaited email. It was a medical school acceptance letter! I may have whispered a few swear words before the physician asked me, “What happened? Did the potassium come back hemolyzed again?” I responded, “No, but I was accepted into Medical School!”  I got a smile, a big thumbs up and a “Let’s go see the next patient in 2.” Life in the emergency room never stops.

I became a Clinical Information Manager (CIM, or medical scribe) more than four years ago. I knew before becoming a scribe that medicine was a career that I wanted to pursue, but I wasn’t sure in what capacity.  I figured being front and center with all of the “hustle and bustle” of an emergency department would give me sort of an idea. Fast forward a few years and here I am at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine finishing up second year and getting ready to head to Martinsburg, W. Va., to start rotations.

New Beginnings

Transitioning from an urban city like New York to rural, country-style living was definitely a change, but I think I handled it with class. I live in “The coolest small town in America”: Lewisburg, W. Va. On the first day, I was accepted with open arms, and the whole experience has been terrific.  Native West Virginians have shown me the “ins and outs” of living in a rural community and quickly became awesome—and I expect lifelong-friends. Unlike the typical medical school community, every student in the class works to help the others, and the “cut throat” competition is non-existent.

Once a Scribe, Now a Medical Student

Becoming a scribe prior to medical school has helped me in ways I could never have imagined. First and foremost, I can relate to the stories that my professors tell us. I was very lucky and grateful to work with physicians who took me to the patient’s room with them to witness the patient-physician interaction; that alone was an invaluable experience.

Being trained in writing physician charts is the obvious advantage. Having that tool under your belt heading into med school is definitely a plus. Just recently, I had the privilege of tag teaming with a fellow student to evaluate and treat a patient at a clinic. Under the supervision of a preceptor, we were responsible for obtaining a detailed history and physical. Finally, we presented the case with possible diagnoses and plans for treatment. This was a great experience, as it was something I had watched working in the emergency department day after day. As a scribe I had taken careful notes as to what was ordered (Chest X-rays, EKGs, CTs, labs) for patients with various presentations and applied that to my studies in medical school.

Within the first week of classes I found myself writing “SOAP” notes in clinical skills classes. We were taught about the “Subjective, Objective, Assessment, Plan” criteria for writing about cases. While this was a new experience for most of my fellow classmates, it was old news for me. One of our first activities was to evaluate a standardized patient and collect and write out the history of the present illness (HPI).  Having the background of being a scribe allowed me to enjoy this activity while most of my classmates were as nervous as I was on the first day as a scribe.

At the hospital where I worked, scribes were scheduled in 12.5-hour blocks, spending most of the shift with the same physician. My first shift felt like it lasted a couple of days. At first, I couldn’t imagine being enclosed in an ED for that many hours, completing chart after chart. Looking back, it was great preparation for the 16-hour days that are medical school.

Occasionally, I had the privilege of observing procedures performed by the physician, such as ET intubations, ultrasound-guided central lines and full codes. During various training labs (after perfecting a specified task), I have been asked by professors, “So what did you do before coming to medical school?” I simply smile and say, “I was a medical scribe.”

What to Expect in Medical School

A typical day of medical school starts off waking up at 7 a.m. Sadly, the only “me” time is brushing my teeth, showering and throwing on some clothes. Breakfast is non-existent, any day. I’m lucky if I remember to grab a frappuccino from the fridge as I run out the door. First class is at 8:10 a.m. sharp. Depending on the body system that’s currently being studied, the topics could range from pathology to pharmacology to case studies or immunology or microbiology. Trust me: there is nothing more exciting than learning about the types of diarrhea while you are trying to wake up! As a scribe I always found it interesting how physicians would ask the patient to describe his or her stool to them. They would ask, “Is there mucous? Is there blood, is it mostly liquid? Is there any solid pieces?” Besides being grossed out to say the least, I figured there had to be a reason. Well, weeks of studying about the different mechanisms of diarrhea gives you great insight into what could be the cause, which leads you to the treatment that much more quickly.  Since most people feel bashful talking about their bowel movements, I use the analogy one of my professors taught me.  I simply ask, “Does it have the consistency of apple juice, apple sauce, or apple pie?” Since everyone is familiar with the consistency of these snacks, it makes the experience that much less awkward.

Each class is 50 minutes long. When a professor starts to go on and on about a case they had a decade ago and spill over into our break, you bet there are 150 pairs of eyes staring them down. That 10-minute break between classes is used to get up and get that blood flowing through those veins.

After four hours of knowledge overload, it’s LUNCHTIME. Well not really – class is at 1 p.m. and it’s Clinical Skills. That requires you to be wearing business attire, a white coat, a name tag and a smile.  So lunch is spent changing. No matter how many times I go to the Clinical Education Center, I still get nervous. Well, it’s the uncertainty. You never know what’s going to be behind that door. Just like the Emergency Department!

The professor tells me, “Room Red 2.” I sit in front of the computer next to the door and wait for my doorway instructions to pop up on the screen. Finally, the scenario pops up on the screen:

A 60 year-old male with abdominal pain

Vitals:  Temp 100.3, RR 18, BP 128/81, Pulse Ox: 99% RA.

Evaluate the patient…

I knock on the door, and the voice tells me, “Come in!” I quickly wash my hands and greet the patient with, “So tell me what brings you in today?” (With a gleaming smile of course).” He responds, “Ugh I’ve been up all night with this pain in my stomach.” I quickly ask him, “Can you tell me more about that?” In my head the “ding” goes off, noting to myself I got full points for my opening statements. He responds, “It started to hurt me last night here,” (he points to the lower right quadrant of his abdomen) “after I ate dinner and then I felt nauseous and vomited a few hours later.”  I quickly narrow down my differential to: appendicitis, diverticulitis, a kidney stone.

I continue asking him questions: “Is there anything that makes it worse?” He tells me, “Yeah, my wife. I swear she must have hit every bump on the way here because I felt every one of them.” At this point I’m almost certain I know where this is going. I finish asking the questions and then tell him, “I’m going to do a quick physical exam.” He agrees and I begin, already having noted that he looks uncomfortable, but not terribly sick. I start with his ENT exam, and he doesn’t appear jaundiced or dehydrated. I put my hand on his shoulder and listen carefully to his heart and lungs, which seem normal—and I tell him so. I then listen for bowel sounds and begin to palpate his abdomen.  When I checked for rebound tenderness in the RLQ, he nearly jumps off the table.  I finish my physical exam and wrap up my encounter. The patient asks, “Doc, what do you think it is?” I respond, “Based on the history and my exam, we are going to rule out appendicitis. I am going to order a complete blood count to check for an elevated white blood cell count and a CT of the abdomen with contrast to visualize the appendix.” I wrap up the encounter and tell him to hang tight. “These tests don’t hurt, but they will take a while.”  I leave the room and sit down to write up my “SOAP” note. We are given nine minutes. I imagine when I worked as a scribe in the ED and patients waiting to be seen. I quickly begin to type:

John Doe is a 60-year-old male who presents complaining of a 1-day history of moderately intense, sharp right lower quadrant pain associated with (+) nausea, (+) 1 episode of vomiting, (-) diarrhea. The pain is constant and exacerbated by movement and gets “a little better lying still.” He describes the pain a 8/10 severity. The patient has no appetite and has not eaten since the evening when he vomited. The patient has had several brown stools that are not blood streaked nor tarry in nature. He denies any recent travel, consumption of uncooked or undercooked foods. He reports feeling “a little feverish”, with (+) chills. He reports (-) dysuria, (-) increased frequency, (-) contact with others with similar symptoms.  He denies ever having a similar episode in the past. His medical and surgical histories are unremarkable. He does not smoke, drink or use illicit drugs. He does not take prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, or herbal supplements. The patient is not allergic to any medications, has never been hospitalized and is up to date on all immunizations. He is a married man in a monogamous relationship, who feels safe at home. He works as a paralegal, is a born-again Christian, living in the rural hills of West Virginia.

I continue to type my physical exam, assessment and plan. Done with a minute to spare! I give myself a pat on the back as I walk out of the door. So, I’m free for the rest of the day, right? WRONG! The day has just begun. Remember those classes from this morning?  There are 100 pages of reading to go with that material that needs to be sifted through before tomorrow’s classes. Since medicine is constantly building upon concepts, it’s important to understand the core concepts, or figuring out subsequent information will be a challenge. So off to the library I go to find a corner to nestle myself into and study until I find my forehead on the keyboard.

The Scribe Advantage

There is no doubt that becoming a scribe prior to medical school has had its benefits. The most obvious advantage is being able to answer the question: Is medicine a career I want to pursue? Observing the daily routine of an emergency department as well as typing physicians’ notes, coding etc., gives you unique insight into the joy, stress and fatigue of practicing emergency medicine. The scribe training class taught me the art of typing physicians’ notes, diligently gathering and disseminating diagnostic exams and coding for all of the procedures performed — all invaluable skills that will be used every day in the medical field. My recent medical school class on coding was a “no brainer” after coding thousands of charts as a scribe. Since I had already learned about “Evaluation and Management” (E&M) codes and procedure codes, I was able to easily follow along.

But most important, as a scribe I gained great respect for the physicians and associate practitioners I had the privilege of working with. When a physician asks you to complete a task, you do it to the best of your ability with a smile. And once the physician knows you are a medical student, you can expect to be grilled on the minute details from all of those late nights studying!

Charles Sineri was a Clinical Information Manager for Emergency Medical Associates at Richmond University Medical Center, Staten Island, N.Y. Sineri received his undergraduate degree from Drexel University, Philadelphia, and is a second-year medical student at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, Lewisburg, W.Va. He plans to pursue a residency in emergency medicine and practice in New York City.

From Road Warrior to King of the Castle

By Dr. Schubert Perotte      Perotte

6.5 years out of med school, I had the opportunity to join an emergency medicine staffing support team, a group of “nomadic” physicians who are dispatched to the sites that have temporary staffing holes.

For a fairly new physician, this experience enabled me to get a taste of different practice settings, travel and live a bit more spontaneously. Now, several years later and more settled both personally and professionally, I relish the normalcy of my routine. My advice to EM physicians exploring their options is to take advantage of opportunities like a staffing support team to see what’s out there.

2010: Kingston, NY:

It’s 6 a.m., and I’m in a hotel. The alarm on my cell phone goes off, the sound blasting me out of sleep. I wake up and walk into the brightly lit and perfectly clean bathroom with everything in its place, including fresh towels and a new unopened packet of soap.

After showering brushing my teeth, and getting into my scrubs, by 6:40 a.m., I’m walking out the door, headed to a local eatery for my breakfast routine of two fruit and maple oatmeal cups and a phone call to my wife.

At 6:55 a.m., I pull into the parking lot of HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley’s Kingston Hospital to start my day as an EMA Staffing Support Team (SST) physician.

At the end of my shift, I either call ahead to place an order at a local restaurant or stop by one of my favorites to try the special of the day. Having great restaurants in the area you work is great for eating – but terrible for dieting. Back at the hotel, I check my email, call my wife and family, then hit the gym or watch a movie.

On days off in the fall, after the leaves begin to change, I take time to enjoy picking apples and sampling the local beer and wine. I look forward to winter, when I’ll get time to ski in the Catskills.

2011: Lumberton, NC:

Southeastern Regional Medical Center (SRMC) in Lumberton, N.C., is a different experience from Kingston – mainly because the emergency department is larger. There is a true sense of southern hospitality. The people are nice, and the physicians and work experience is top notch. Patients are initially seen by a primary care physician, physician assistant or triage nurse, so by the time I examine  them, most of the lab work is done. It’s an extremely efficient process.

The overall experience — the people, food and great weather – is what makes SRMC so attractive. The doctors are an inviting group. In fact, the staff physicians often take me out to lunch or dinner, so while I may be away from home, I never feel lonely.

The doctors at Lumberton try to convince me to make the move to North Carolina, but I plan to stay in New Jersey. But I know when I visit North Carolina in the future, I’ll have a place to stay with the friends that I’ve made.

2013: Back home in New Jersey:

It’s 6 a.m., and my wife and I wake to the blaring sound of the alarm clock.  We both get out of the bed; she heads to the kitchen, I head to the shower. I brush my teeth and check out her section of the bathroom counter – her brushes, make-up bag and hair care products are all in their accustomed place within easy reach. Very different from my own motel room neatness…but it’s great to be home.

As I finish my shower she pops in to say goodbye before heading to the gym. I go to my closet, pick out a shirt tie and coordinating pants. Dressed and ready, I go to the kitchen and find breakfast prepared and lunch neatly packed in my lunch bag – a turkey sandwich, carrots with dip, an apple and a pear. I eat my breakfast and head out the door at 6:50.  Yep, it’s great to be home.

At 7:25, I arrive in the parking lot of the Bayshore Community Hospital in Holmdel, ready to start my shift.

If the shift is over early enough, I give my wife a call to see if she needs me to pick up anything from the supermarket. When she arrives home, she starts dinner, with me as enthusiastic first assistant. At about 7 we sit down, have one of our favorite home-cooked meals, and discuss the events —always ending with whatever was the best part–of our day.

Some Things Never Change

When I think about what it is like to work as a traveling physician as opposed to having a home base– aside from my morning and evening routines and the inevitable hospital idiosyncrasies there aren’t many differences.  The day-to-day aspects of patient care are universal. There are the usual calls to Radiology and the Lab as private physicians try to expedite their patients’ admission or discharge.  Through it all, I try to balance great patient care, documentation, efficiency, a bite to eat — and on a  lucky day, a bathroom break. At all sites there are associate practitioners, scribes, nurses, medical technicians and unit clerks who make the job of caring for the sick, injured and scared run more smoothly. Working so closely together, we easily develop a sense a family.

Combining Cultures

One experience unique to working on the Staffing Support Team is the ability to establish our company’s culture within a new site. Each new contract brings with it the opportunity to build relationships that allow both the staff and hospital to grow. I have always felt welcomed by each new site because the administration and staff understand that we are there to deliver the highest-quality patient care and do what is right during each patient encounter to support the team. And while Emergency Medical Associates has its own policies and procedures, we always work with our hospitals to create a team that meets everyone’s expectations.

At the End of the Day

The biggest benefit of being a member of the SST was the exposure to different ways to deliver emergency medicine, depending on the community. The Staffing Support Team exposes you to different hospital cultures and makes you a more well-rounded physician.

Being an emergency medicine “road warrior” offered many benefits and opportunities that were attractive to me earlier in my career. I had the flexibility of traveling to hospitals and gaining front-line experience. But now I know how important it is to spend more time at home with my wife and assume our roles as “king and queen of the castle.”

Schubert Perotte, MD, FACEP, is an attending emergency physician at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J and Bayshore Community Hospital, Holmdel, N.J. Dr. Perotte is a partner of Emergency Medical Associates. He is a recognized researcher and lecturer in the field of evidence-based medicine. Dr. Perotte received his undergraduate degree from Rutgers University, his medical degree from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and completed his emergency medicine residency at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

Communication is the Best Medicine

By Marc Milano, MD, FACEP Caring doctor with ill patient

As ER doctors and mid-levels, we live in the emergency room. It is our home away from home. And each room can present a new and exciting challenge.  But for a patient, each room can present a new and frightening uncertainty: Will this hurt? Am I having a heart attack? Am I going to die? As clinicians – and caregivers – it is our job to help ease the worries of our patients. Our tone of voice, our facial expression, every part of our presence in the examination room will have an effect–positive or negative– on the patient’s experience.  If that effect is positive, it can lead to better patient outcomes, decreased medico-legal risks—and a better shift for you. And if you keep stringing better shifts together, sooner or later it adds up to a better career.

Don’t keep secrets from your patients

Let patients know, within reason, what you are thinking at every point in the encounter. It is a real privilege to give this insight and it will be appreciated. For example, express your findings while examining the patient. “Your lungs are nice and clear” or “you seem a little tender right here,” engages and reassures patients and lets them know both that you are paying attention to the exam and that you are making an effort to communicate with them. Telling patients what you think the problem may be or your preliminary diagnosis BEFORE ordering tests might even avoid some tests if the patient has been given a good rationale and you have earned his or her trust. You may well be able to confidently reassure them that the problem they were most concerned about–or even terrified of—is in fact not present. You will have a very relieved and very grateful patient.

Honesty is the best policy

We hold ourselves to extremely high professional standards and expect even more of ourselves than our patients do. At times, however, we may encounter a difficult or uncommon problem that we haven’t previously encountered. It is best to be honest with patients if you are uncertain about their diagnoses. A good example of this is with rashes – often tricky to definitively diagnose in the emergency department. It is best to explain the possibilities, discuss treatment options, and give appropriate referral advice. Patients appreciate honesty. And even if we can’t identify the rash, we may be able to make the critical determination: “I’m not entirely certain what this represents, but I’m confident it’s not the rash of …” [shingles/Lyme disease/smallpox/Ebola/etc.]

The emergency department is our second home, so it is best to treat our patients like guests. Worried guests.

Marc A. Milano, MD, FACEP, is an emergency physician at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J. He serves as physician head coach of the Patient Satisfaction Coaching Program at Emergency Medical Associates, an emergency medicine practice headquartered in Parsippany, N.J. He is the medical director of emergency medical services (EMS) at Somerset Medical Center. Dr. Milano received his undergraduate degree from Rutgers University, his medical degree from St. George’s University in Grenada, and completed his emergency medicine residency at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

**Catch Dr. Marc Milano on WMTR 1250 AM on Sunday, March 24 at 9:30. He will be a guest on the “Answers Live” call-in radio show**

Jersey City Medical Center Emergency Department Staff Returns ‘Home’ After Being Displaced by Hurricane Sandy

By Jodi McCaffreysuperstorm

On Dec. 22, nearly two months after Hurricane Sandy hit the area and forced the temporary relocation of the emergency department at Jersey City Medical Center, the staff has finally returned to its renovated emergency department.

During the late October “superstorm,” four feet of water surrounded the hospital. Despite sandbags and other precautions, nearly two feet of water breached the building and flooded the entire first floor – including the ED.

Dr. David Castillo was resuscitating and intubating a patient as water rose above his shoes. It was only after the patient was stabilized that he could be safely evacuated to higher ground. Another patient actually swam to the ED in hopes of finding a warm, dry place to ride out the storm.

“We thought we had planned for the worst, but it was so much more complicated,” said Michael Bessette, MD, medical director of the emergency department. “We had experienced flooding with Hurricane Irene, but nothing like this.”

Dr. Bessette and Cheng-Teng “Bill” Wang, MD, re-arranged the schedule to enable staff to arrive before the storm was due to strike– and to stay overnight if needed.

As the water rose in the ED, patients were transported to the PACU on the second floor, since elective surgeries had been cancelled in anticipation of the hurricane. The displaced ED team was already facing higher-than-normal patient volumes when a fire in Jersey City brought 30 to 40 firemen to the ED. Recognizing the crisis, the National Guard set up a makeshift shelter and medical clinic at the Jersey City Armory, so ultimately some of the less severe cases were referred there.

“Patients didn’t want to leave,” Dr. Bessette explained. “At home, they had no heat, no electricity. Schools were closed, most pharmacies were closed, doctors’ offices were closed. Patients who needed oxygen couldn’t get it. Transportation systems were down, so even those with a safe place to go couldn’t get home. And our patients have a lot of social issues, so we had to improvise to get them in touch with the community agencies that could provide the services required.”

Cell phone and email systems were affected by the storm, further hampering communication and coordination. Medical center staff connected with the few pharmacies that remained open to expedite getting patients the medications, nebulizers, methadone dressings and other supplies they needed.

After the flood waters receded, the ED was declared unusable. Six ambulances were lost due to the flooding and 60 employee cars were totaled. The whole department had to be reconstructed section by section. A seven-bed trailer was parked outside and used as a fast track area to keep patients moving through the system during repairs. No equipment was lost in the flood, according to Dr. Bessette, so what could be moved was transported to the appropriate area.

“The staff adapted well,” said Dr. Bessette. “It was difficult having our department spread out in different locations both inside and outside the medical center, but the staff did a great job.”

As can be expected, the ED’s wait times and LWOB rate suffered during the disruption, but Dr. Bessette reports that because of the diligence and resourcefulness of the staff under very difficult and stressful conditions, the quality of care was not affected.

Jodi McCaffrey is the Director of New Business Development Marketing for Emergency Medical Associates. Ms. McCaffrey joined the company in 2010, bringing 15 years of healthcare public relations, communications and marketing experience. Previous roles include serving as manager of publications and web development for Somerset Medical Center, Somerville, N.J., and editor at Health Resources Publishing, Manasquan, N.J., publisher of more than 25 industry-related monthly newsletters. She has extensive experience in web content creation, social media strategy, publication development, public relations and internal and external communications.

Ms. McCaffrey holds a master’s degree in corporate and public communication from Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J., and a bachelor’s degree in English/creative writing from Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, N.J. She is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives, Public Relations Society of America and Healthcare Marketing and Planning Society of New Jersey.

Big Data in a Big World

big data (2)By Eric Bachenheimer, MBA, MHSA, FACHE

As we approach the end of 2012, news headlines have us focused on many things: the impact of the U.S. presidential election, political unrest in numerous countries, development of new governments and a man free-falling to earth from space. In the midst of all this, you may not have noticed that we have entered into the age of Big Data.

Big Data is the concept that there is now so much data available that it creates difficulty in processing and analyzing it. One would think that having more data would be better for performing advanced analyses to obtain deeper meaning from vast terabytes of data in “the cloud” to support better decision-making and learning. More is better, right?

While this is true to some degree, there are challenges with just how much data is being captured now, and healthcare and emergency departments are no exception. Consider that the federal incentives for doctors’ offices and hospitals to establish electronic record systems persuaded many to finally migrate over from the ancient pen and paper methodology. The Meaningful Use certification has further stimulated software vendors to provide ever more robust data capture, and hospitals and physicians alike have already begun to embrace this. All the while, the back room computers and servers continue to process and store more and more data points.

So now what? Well, we need to find a way to navigate Big Data.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have developed an extensive series of quality measures applicable to hospitals, and its data reporting requirements have continued to grow correspondingly larger in scope and depth. The Emergency Department data set that was introduced last year contains a variety of measures, such as median arrival to provider time, median arrival to departure time, median decision to admit to departure time, and walkout percentages. And other measures are slated to be released in upcoming years.

While CMS is in a “collection phase” right now, the next step will be to provide analysis of the measures from U.S. hospitals to identify benchmark performance levels. These will help hospitals analyze how they stack up against competitors, as well as how to identify opportunities to improve upon these measures. But CMS won’t be stopping there. In the next two years, we can expect to see incentives and penalties attached to hospitals’ Medicare payments based on performance levels on these measures. The goal is to create an incentive for hospitals and providers to improve performance and further enhance both efficiency and the quality of care. Big Data is only getting bigger. And, CMS, by defining key healthcare metrics, will provide important guidance for hospitals and providers on areas to focus on to make Big Data more manageable.

 Eric Bachenheimer, MBA, MHSA, FACHE joined Emergency Medical Associates in 2004 and is the Director of Client Solutions for the ED Solutions team which advises and assists clients with achieving operational efficiencies, process redesign, enhancing patient satisfaction, and ensuring regulatory compliance. He has more than 10 years of experience in the emergency department industry.  He holds a master’s degree in health services administration from the University of Michigan, a master’s degree in business administration from New York University, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He is a certified emergency medical technician and has worked in EMS for nearly 15 years. He is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives, and serves on the editorial advisory board of ED Overcrowding Solutions. Bachenheimer also is an active member of the American Association of Healthcare Consultants and the Healthcare Financial Management Association.

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