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Study: Longer Waits at Big Hospitals

Posted August. 24, 2006 03:01,   


At the emergency center in Asan Medical Center, Seoul, in the afternoon on August 22, the scene was busy. Every three to five minutes, an emergency patient was carried into the center, which treats the largest number of emergency patients in the country. There were so many patients in the center that even the corridor was full.

One of the patients in his thirties had to get a quick cardiopulmonary resuscitation and was treated on a mat on the floor as the hospital didn’t have any spare bed.

In this center, patients cannot get immediate surgery if their condition is not life-threatening. It is almost impossible for them to find a ward. A guardian of a cancer patient in his 50s said, “We spent three days in the corridor. We’re sick and tired of it.” Cancer patients, on average, have to wait for more than 60 hours to get hospitalized.

At the moment, a sixty-something man was carried to the emergency room of Hangang Sacred Heart Hospital, which has the smallest number of emergency patients in Seoul. Without delay, the man, who broke his finger operating heavy equipment, underwent surgery. Another man in his twenties was treated as soon as he arrived at the center.

Many people insist on going to big hospitals in Seoul or other major cities when they are sick or have an accident. As the two cases above show, however, people have more chance to get swift treatment in nearby medical centers than large and renowned centers.

This paper analyzed last year’s ward occupancy rates and the ratios of specialists to patients of 16 regional emergency medical centers, four local emergency medical centers and 50 local emergency facilities. And the result showed the same conclusion. The 50 local emergency facilities were the hospitals designated by the Ministry of Health and Welfare as having high quality treatment among the 99 centers nationwide.

Patients Crowd Large Centers in Seoul-

Asan Medical Center, located in Seoul, had the most emergency patients last year -- an average of 204 a day. Samsung Medical Center followed Asan with an average of 148 a day. The data indicate that patients tend to go to big hospitals located in Seoul. The third to fifth places were taken by hospitals in suburban areas -- Gachon University Gil Center in Incheon, Ajou University Center in Suwon and Bundang Cha Medical Center in Seongnam. As much as 35 percent of the emergency patients in Samsung Medical Center were from provinces.

On the contrary, Chonnam National University Hwasun Hospital in South Jeolla Province treated only 14 emergency patients daily, and Pohang St. Mary’s Hospital in North Gyeongsang Province had 27 a day. Seoul Adventist Hospital and Hangang Sacred University Medical Center had only 32 emergency cases everyday despite their locations in Seoul, which shows patients prefer large hospitals to smaller ones.

A Hospital’s Reputation Is One Thing, Immediate Treatment Another -

Large hospitals do have many emergency specialties. But they have to treat a large number of patients as patients cram those hospitals.

Doctors in Hanyang University Guri Hospital in Gyeonggi had the most patients: 60 people per doctor. Bundang Daejin Medical Center in Seongnam ranked second with 48 patients, and Bundang Cha Medical Center third. That of Asan Center, which treated the largest number of emergency patients, was 29 per doctor, while Hwasun Hospital’s was a mere seven. Hwasun also had the lowest ward occupancy rate of 57 percent. That means people can be treated by emergency specialties and hospitalized right away whenever they go to the hospital. Bundang Cha Medical Center, however, had the highest ward occupancy rate of 640 percent. In other words, an emergency patient can be treated on a bed only after more than six inpatients leave the hospital.

Usually hospitals far from Seoul have low ratios of emergency specialties to patients and ward occupancy rates. In short, a person who goes emergency centers outside Seoul can get more appropriate treatment more quickly than those who go to big centers in Seoul or suburban areas.

What Is an Alternative?–

Emergency centers are classified into three categories – regional centers, local centers and local facilities. Regional centers are equipped with wards and intensive care units. Local centers mainly treat patients with special diseases while local facilities are for patients with acute illnesses.

Experts advise that it is better for patients to get an immediate care at a nearby local facility and transfer to larger hospitals after consulting doctors.

Lim Kyung-soo of the Korean Society of Emergency Medicine said, “Patients in critical condition like cerebral infarction, myocardial infarction or serious injury should get treatment within one to six hours of an accident. Unfortunately, many patients insist on going to renowned hospitals, only to lose their lives.”

corekim@donga.com pen@donga.com