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ER economics 101

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legal warning: The information here should not be understood legally as financial advice. If you believe anything on this site is in error, please contact me. I am always open to corrections, new ideas, and new opinions...

This past week, I was sent my doctor to the ER for treatment of a boil.  I’m doing well, thank you, but it was a huge pain.  Certainly more of a pain than wild animals, but not as much of a pain as hail; overall, I’d give it a 6 out of ten.

When I got to the hospital, the ER was packed; there was not a single seat available in the waiting area.  The only time people seemed to get up was in order to yell at the nurses for their not having seen a doctor yet.  Doctors had to run from room to room in order not to get mobbed by impatient patients.  At one point during the evening a doctor broke down and, after a patient yelled at her that he had been waiting five hours, screamed back at the patient complaining about her terrible working conditions and paltry salary.  More words were exchanged, but I don’t know enough swear words in Russian to translate properly.

By the end of the night, I had waited eight hours to see a doctor.  In retrospect, my waiting was partly my fault.  Medical care is a resource like any other and I should have been looking at this situation using economics, the study of who gets what and why.

Hospitals are overcrowded; doctors are resource in a terrible shortage.  One of the jobs of the nurses is to sift through the patients and prioritize so as to use the resource in the best possible way.  This means that seeing a doctor has more to do with one’s relative priority to others in the ER and less to do with one’s time of arrival.  While many try using intimidation to make themselves look like more of a priority, the better strategy is to wait until a time when there is not much competition.

When a doctor sends gives you a referral to the ER, ask him or her if you need to go ASAP or if it can wait until around 3AM.  If it can, then go home and relax before going to the ER.  Doing this can reduce your waiting time from as much as eight hours to as little as thirty minutes.

Two more things to note: (1) Yelling at the doctors will not help.  They are not the ones under-staffing the hospitals.  If you want to yell at someone, look up the MK’s phone numbers and call them. (2) If possible, try to always to go the hospital with food, a book, an iPod, and, if possible, even a laptop and a couple of movies.  You’re going to wait anyways, so you may as well plan your own entertainment in order to make the time go by quicker.

In an ideal world, our government would get its act together and help provide better medical care for its citizens.  Until that happens, the best thing you can do is to be understanding of those trying to provide you with medical care and to do your part as well.


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