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Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Report highlights shortcomings in PA emergency care

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Jan 16, 2014 9:27 PM
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A new report from the American College of Emergency Physicians finds Pennsylvania is a mixed bag when it comes to providing emergency care.

The state's national ranking improved in the five years since the last report, but its jump from eighth place to sixth place disguises some worsening problems. One of the biggest is the medical liability environment in the commonwealth - due in part to the lack of legal protections for emergency personnel.

Dr. Charles Barbera, who chairs the emergency medicine department at Reading Hospital, said emergency care doctors face a higher risk of negligence lawsuits than other doctors.

"Many of our patients are our first time encounters and we don't have the advantage of that history," said Barbera, referring to primary care physicians that see their patients more frequently and have the benefit of knowing a patient's medical history. "So we are often challenged to make decisions on the information that we have in a fairly limited time span."

But in Pennsylvania, emergency medical personnel - who have no history with their patients - and other doctors who do see their patients more frequently are held to the same legal standard when trying to defend their actions in a lawsuit. The result? Higher insurance costs for emergency doctors, which translate into higher health care costs for consumers and, in some cases, decreased access to care. The report notes that Pennsylvania primary care doctors and specialists still have among the highest medical liability insurance premiums in the country.

A state House proposal would make it more difficult to hold emergency medical personnel liable for an allegedly negligent medical action. It has sat in a House committee for nearly a year.

Overcrowding in emergency rooms is also an issue cited in the report, and the commonwealth is given poor marks for its disaster preparedness. But the study notes improvements in the state's access to emergency care due to relatively low shortages of health professionals.

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