Is it wrong for a university hospital to turn away a patient because he doesn't have insurance? What if it was a kid attacked by a pit bull? There's been a big splash in Chicago about a child with dog bites to the face being sent home to follow up at a different hospital. The situation has drawn criticism from the American College of Emergency Physicians, but the University of Chicago is defending its position to divert uninsured patients. This story's juiciness is enhanced by the direct connection between Michelle Obama and hospital’s Urban Health Initiative (UHI), which has as its goal to divert non-emergency patients away from EDs. It’s supposed to make the system more efficient by freeing up ED staff to treat the most urgent cases. But ACEP likens it to dumping unprofitable patients.
This creates a tough challenge for me. As the newspapers and ACEP present it, this policy clashes with my reasons for choosing a career in emergency medicine. But I've also held that innovative solutions for improving access to medical care should be able to be implemented from within the ED. I didn't hear much about the UHI when I interviewed at the University of Chicago. But in a recent email to applicants, the U of C emergency medicine residency program director did say that training will actually not be very much different because of the University's policy. This makes a lot of sense, given that training occurs at four hospitals around the city and there are always patients in urban ED waiting rooms. And as Ben points out below, it is important to see both sides of this story. But the impression of the program will suffer. Is that a risk I want to take in assembling my rank list?
If you're in my ethics class, we'll be focusing on this issue in two weeks.