South FL emergency depts cited for denying care

Five hospitals based in South Florida's Palm Beach County were recently cited for denying treatment to 30 patients entering their emergency departments last year. While these incidents reflect a relatively small percentage of the 450,000 emergency department visits that took place in the county in 2007, the incidents add up to a large number, part of trends which have made Florida the state with the largest number of patients dumping complaints to CMS.

The cases are also a good example of the stresses EDs are facing nationwide in finding specialists to treat some incoming patients. Incidents identified by CMS include a 24-year-old who waited 12 hours with an open leg fracture and bounced from hospital to hospital as none were able to find an orthopedist to treat the patient. A West Palm Beach hospital was cited after six gastroenterologists refused care to a jaundiced patient with a distended stomach and shortness of breath.

All of the hospitals involved in these incidents have attempted to remedy specialist shortages by paying specialists to go on call. Hospitals in the area have also attempted to work together to establish a regional call plan to route patients to locations where specialists are available, but the going has been slow given hospitals' and doctors' sensitivities over fairness.

To learn more about the problem:
- read this South Florida Sun-Sentinel article

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