Emergency departments around Australia have experienced COVID in many ways.
From the first quarter of 2020, if not all have worked hard to plan for an influx of very unwell, highly infectious patients. In the less fortunate of jurisdictions, those fears are being felt – though thankfully not yet of the magnitude seen in some foreign cities.
The hospital’s emergency departments (EDs) are under extreme pressure and the public has been called upon to look at the need carefully before presenting them there. Don’t come if you don’t need to, they’ve been told. But equally, don’t wait if you need treatment, especially for COVID.
fewer employees, more pressure
For all hospitals, the COVID plan involves creating streams of patient flows, to ensure that those infected can be treated in addition and simultaneously – while preventing the former from infecting the latter. . This is labor-intensive work, often duplicating patient avenues but without the doubling of staff.
In fact, many EDs in Australia have low staff strength for a variety of reasons. Many small rural departments rely on fly-in-fly-out locum, which has now been closed by the lockdown. Many a times, doctors and nurses have been discharged from work or elsewhere because of getting infected or having close contact with them.
EDs with less staff progress, more burden is borne by fewer healthcare workers, resulting in their subsequent burnout. To that, add the task of working in full personal protective equipment, often for several hours at a time. It is physically demanding, uncomfortable, unpleasant work, in an environment that requires both a high level of alertness to keep employees safe and the cognitive skills to manage often complex and rapidly deteriorating patients.
Read more: Health workers are hesitant about the COVID vaccine. Here’s How We Can Support Them Safely
Not only COVID patients
Much of the media attention to health care in times of pandemic has been on COVID hospitalization and subsequent admission to the intensive care unit. Less has been said about the impact of COVID on the healing of other diseases or injuries.
We are very fortunate in Australia that our ED still has more “others” than COVID. This may change by Christmas.
The ED is most obviously the place to treat serious injuries and illnesses. In addition, we treat people with chronic diseases. ED can act as a safety net for those who have no one else to go and reassures many without suffering. For each of these categories of patients, the experience of ED has changed significantly.
There is great concern that many of those who need immediate medical care are refraining from taking it. They may be afraid of catching COVID or being a burden on a stressful system. The latter category has many elderly patients and who probably have the most appropriate indications for using our services.
Read more: Here’s what happens when you’re hospitalized with COVID
First, it’s your emergency
So how should we, as a resource-constrained civil society, use our ED in the midst of a pandemic?
The first and foremost principle is that any medical emergency is your emergency. If you think you may be facing a medical emergency – one that you cannot address with the resources available to you at the time you are experiencing it – you should come to the ED. It doesn’t matter if it seems insignificant to others, it’s your emergency. And we are your emergency department.
If you do not feel very unwell, and are unsure where you should seek medical care, there are alternatives to ED where excellent medical advice and treatment can be found.
Telehealth has been a boon to both patients and our GP colleagues. There are now also several health lines to call. Pharmacists can provide excellent information about medication, as well as provide COVID vaccination now.
ED is not the best place to go for COVID test. If you are otherwise fine, there are many test locations where you will wait for a very short time for tests and results.
Similarly, many concerns about the very rare side effects of COVID vaccination can be addressed with telehealth consultations and blood tests if necessary.
Read more: How COVID affects the heart, according to a cardiologist
Extra precautions, long wait
If you do come across ED, try and be patient. Extra measures have been taken to keep you safe.
You will have to wear a mask and check in with a QR code, use hand sanitizer and physical distancing. There are strict rules regarding the number of visitors.
If it’s a problem, you’ll probably be asked to leave. This is nothing personal – we have a responsibility towards all of our patients.
You may wait longer than expected, despite the medical staff’s efforts to see everyone as soon as possible.
Read more: How contagious is Delta? How long have you been contagious? Is it more lethal? A Quick Guide to the Latest Science
ED treats all comers
Finally, if you are concerned about the consequences of catching COVID, get vaccinated. We treat all visitors with a variety of beliefs about their medical care—as long as they agree to follow the rules of “The House”: being respectful and following hospital procedures.
But getting vaccinated will make you less likely to need ED attention as a result of COVID – and keep you from catching it if you get into ED for any other reason.
Working in the ED at the moment is no more fun for anyone. We are all really tired and, for many, this is even before the ED where we work has become COVID-predominant. We are looking forward to exit this phase of the pandemic safely. Then we can get back to treating the mishaps of the more common human lifestyle, making it complete.
Read more: How well do COVID vaccines work in the real world?