As much as some of us complain about our jobs or life in the healthcare IT trenches, most of us have a lot to be thankful for. I experienced that first hand this week with an emergency department shift that was unlike any I’ve ever worked.
I was called to work at the last minute. That should have made me suspicious, but it was a post-holiday shift so I figured it was just poor planning on someone’s part.
To start things off, the entire hospital was on lock-down due to protests across the country and a specific threat of protests near our facility. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any mechanism to communicate that to staff members in advance.
The only entry is through the main lobby. Nurses, patient care techs, and physicians were wandering around the building swiping our badges since we didn’t know what was going on. Once people got to the other side of the building and made their way in, they were late for their shift, which is never a good way to start.
Instead of having clear communication from hospital leadership (not like we all have email addresses or anything), we had to rely on what people had heard through the rumor mill. About 30 minutes into the shift, we finally got a straight story from the charge nurse. It didn’t make any difference to the way we were caring for patients, but it allowed us to mentally prepare for what might be coming our way should we have an actual protest at the hospital or receive casualties from nearby incidents.
Mentally preparing was all we could do since there apparently isn’t a policy and procedure for how to handle civil unrest. The other doctor on shift with me joked that we were ready to handle Ebola, yet had no plan for something that was actually likely to happen given recent events.
I fired up Twitter on my phone and immediately subscribed to the local media, figuring that would be a decent way to keep tabs on the situation. All of the local TV stations had been blocked by IT, but one of the EMS guys pulled up Broadcastify at the nursing station, which let us hear police scanner traffic. Patients were another good source of information since the threat of a protest certainly didn’t keep anyone from coming in.
As a safety-net facility, the staff is used to working under stressful conditions. Most took it in stride. I work at this hospital only a handful of times each year and it always impresses me how well it holds together even though there may be a substantial amount of duct tape and some baling wire involved.
I was running the fast track side of the ED, so I didn’t expect to see any major trauma if things got rough, especially since the hospital lowered their trauma center level a couple of years ago. In the morning, most of my cases were truly primary care – people who had run out of their medications due to the clinics being closed and not having refills, sinus infections, colds and flu, and so on.
I was grateful for the defaults in my EHR that let me document the visits quickly since our volume was picking up. Towards the lunch hour, there was an announcement that protesters were at an intersection about a quarter of a mile from the hospital. We expected things to slow, but they didn’t.
I saw a couple of Thanksgiving-induced casualties (pro tip: if you cut yourself while cooking, you need to have it stitched up within 12 hours or there’s not much we can do) including a woman who had her hand smashed in a shopping center door during the Black Friday madness. What really made me think of Thanksgiving, though, was realizing just how many times I had searched for non-English versions of patient education handouts during the shift. As much as we sometimes complain about EHRs, this time ours performed like a champ.
I looked through my “complete chart” board and realized I had seen patients from Somalia, Ethiopia, Bosnia, Iraq, Guatemala, Mexico, and China. It’s powerful to know that despite its flaws, we live in a country where people are willing to leave their homes and families for a chance at something better.
Ultimately, the protesters never approached the hospital. Other than being one of the busiest shifts I’ve ever worked, it was pretty unremarkable. I feel privileged to be able to care for such a diverse population and am definitely glad the EHR was up to the test.
Have a story about the EHR actually making life easier? Email me.
Email Dr. Jayne.