Here are four scenarios:
1)A patient has their PCP paged at 6:30 PM, after hours, when the PCP is on the way home. They complain of diarrhea and abdominal pain that seems mild, but has not stopped.
2)An older patient comes in without an appointment and complains she saw blood in her toilet. She has felt dizzy and wanted to run in to see her PCP. But the office is swamped and she’d have to wait. There is no nurse to draw blood.
3)The lab calls with an emergency value. The potassium is 3.3.
4)It’s the weekend. The lab calls: INR is 5.
So what should a PCP do? Should he:
a)Tell these patients to wait until they can be seen
b)Tell them to go to the Emergency Room?
I don’t feel there is any other answer to the question than ‘B’. And I’ll tell you why. Because momma raised me to NEVER DIAGNOSE OVER THE PHONE! That is just something a doctor should not do under any circumstances. And unless the office has a nurse and a lab, as well as NG tubes, central line kits, and blood, you’d have to accept the fact that most PCP’s offices are not equipped to deal with these situations anyway.
Case one is based on an actual gastroenterologist in Florida who was told by a man’s wife he was having these symptoms. He advised Maalox and see him the following day. He ended up having IBD and dying that night. Oops. Malpractice ensued of course.
Case two is common enough. And I don’t want to personally wait on a CBC for a whole day, even with negative orthostatics, as that physical exam finding is notoriously unreliable (I can cite an ER doc who made this statement at a conference if anyone takes umbrage with that.)
Cases three and four speak for themselves. Even if I called the patient with low potassium at home and asked him to check his pulse, I’d STILL not take a chance. Same goes for the INR patient.
911doc made the following statement:
Now, what happens if you have chest pain? If you go to your general internist's office and he or she finds out you have risk factors for cardiac disease and are over 30 you will likely find yourself in an ambulance on your way to see me. If you call the nurse "answer line" they will tell you to go to the "nearest emergency department". Or, you may choose to come directly to me. What if you need quick lab results? What if you have vomited yourself into dehydration and need an IV? Go to the ED.
I say “Yeah, so what?" Is there something different an internist or FP could do in the office for these patients? I fail to understand the point and what should be different. What is an emergency room for? If the chest pain is even remotely possibly cardiac, that’s an emergency. At least for me it would be.
Whether the PCP shows up at the ER, whether the PCP sends a note, whether the PCP’s midlevel made the call are all complaints that have NOTHING TO DO with the point 911doc is making, which I find is false and hollow.
The fact is, is that hospital care doesn’t pay enough for the time spent. So if a PCP hasn’t placed a central line since residency, so what? An ER doctor probably doesn’t remember a lot of other things they once learned in medical school. Because they don’t need to know them anymore. And even if I placed a central line in my office, then what? I don’t have a 24 hour center in my office. Even if I ran a code, they still have to go to the hospital.
I had an ER attending tell me he wouldn’t do a paracentesis because he wasn’t covered for that under his liability insurance. The resident under him couldn’t believe it any more than I could. He probably just hadn’t done one in years. And you know what? Big deal. So I did it. And now it’s been years, and I probably would have to remember how.
Hey 911doc, here is your generalist. And nothing has happened to me! Your head just got a little too big.