When a patient enters the emergency department, they can expect to see a wide range of health care professionals who will work together to evaluate, diagnose and create treatment plans. While each member of the team plays a vital role in patient care, ACEP believes the team must be led by an emergency physician.
In order to understand why emergency physician-led care should be the standard of care, we must take a deeper look at the training and experience levels of the different members of the care team and how this informs the evaluation and treatment of each patient that comes through the ED.
Who You Can Expect to See in the ED
Emergency physicians are the doctors on duty 24/7 in thousands of emergency departments across the country. Emergency physicians are medical professionals who are dedicated to saving lives and providing the highest quality of care and the best outcomes to all patients—regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.
In medical school alone, a physician will complete about 3,000 hours of training. By the time physicians are board-certified, they will triple their clinical hours. During these years of training, physicians acquire practical experience by working face-to-face with patients to learn the warning signs and subtle symptoms of an emergency that can mean the difference between life and death.
Nurse practitioners (NPs) are specialty care providers and licensed practitioners. However, compared to an emergency physician’s 11 years and 12,000 hours of required training, a nurse practitioner is required to clock at least 500 clinical hours and about 5 – 8 years of training. While their years of training develop specialized knowledge and the ability to establish diagnoses, manage and initiate treatment plans – their practice should be under the supervision of an emergency physician to ensure proper steps are being taken to treat the patient.
Like NPs, physician assistants (PAs) are licensed practitioners and operate under the supervision of emergency physicians. PAs complete about 7 years of training and are a key part of the triage process in emergency departments, seeing patients with a variety of medical issues and concerns and contributing to patient diagnosis. However, it is imperative that an emergency physician provides some level of supervision to a PA’s practice to ensure the patient is receiving the most accurate level of care.
Emergency physicians are the most qualified to lead care teams.
Collaboration in emergency care teams is a vital component of ensuring top-line patient care. However, every team needs a captain to guide to the best outcomes, and the thousands of hours of training and experience of emergency physicians is unparalleled to the rest of the care team.
Emergency physicians are able to mentor and supervise their teams and review the work of their colleagues to ensure no stones are left unturned and establish an action plan that will fulfill patient needs.
The emergency department can be a fast-paced and unpredictable environment. While each member of the care team is an indispensable partner, there are meaningful differences in the training each completes to perform their job. To safeguard patients in receiving the highest-level of care and avoid any oversights in the evaluation process, it’s critical the care team is led by a licensed and board-certified emergency physician.