North Arundel Hospital has joined some hospitals in the state in adding physician assistants to speed emergency room care, resulting in an average 20-minute cut in waiting times, a spokesman said yesterday.
"There's nothing that makes us happier than seeing someone treated and on their way in an hour or two," said Dr. Richard Fields, emergency department chairman. "That's what we're aiming for."
Working in the emergency room's fast track, physician assistants, or PAs, are diagnosing and treating patients who have minor complaints in conjunction with an emergency medicine doctor.
A PA, who has completed a program comparable to two years of medical school, makes the initial diagnosis and discusses the case with a physician, who also interviews and examines the patient.
The PA then administers treatment, such as ordering X-rays or obtaining medicine. A doctor must sign a prescription.
North Arundel added six PAs in October to work during peak evening and weekend hours and has been able to cut into the time patients wait for treatment, Dr. Fields said.
The emergency department, which treats more than 3,000 people monthly, has treated an additional 400 patients a month since the PAs were added to the emergency room, he added.
"It has helped, definitely," Dr. Fields added. "It's significant.
Anne Arundel Medical Center has been using PAs for more than 10 years.
PAs "do the physical exam and then talk with a physician, who comes up with the appropriate diagnosis and treatment," he said. "They've learned a lot of what nurses and doctors learn."
PAs do many of the time-consuming procedures usually done by doctors. They can stitch wounds, for example.
Those at North Arundel are accredited by the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation.
Their training includes classroom and clinical instruction on anatomy, physiology, pathology, microbiology and pharmacology, as well as behavioral sciences and medical ethics.
The emergency depertment also has added an evening pediatrician to provide emergency care for children.
Of the 45,000 patients who come through the emergency room each year at North Arundel Hospital, more than half are pediatric patients, spokeswoman Jennifer Curtis said.
A pediatrician will be on duty seven days a week, from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. in the emergency room, Dr. Fields said.
.5l Meanwhile, hospital officials have designated two rooms in the emergency room's fast track for pediatric emergency services and decorated them with Sesame Street characters.
"Children tend to have higher temperatures in the afternoons and evenings, but the parents have less access to care," Dr. Fields said.
Because pediatricians' offices are closed in the evenings, parents either worry until morning, or take their children to the emergency room with a pediatrician on duty.