Good Interdepartmental Relationships: The Foundations of a Solid Emergency Department
“No man is an island” said the English poet, John Donne, and nowhere can that statement be better appreciated than in a modern emergency department (ED). As emergency physicians, we work in the setting of a close knit team involving nurses, technicians, consultants, clerks, security guards and many more. On a macroscopic level as well, the ED itself needs productive relationships with every other department in the hospital. Back when the ED was staffed by physicians-in-training, general practitioners and moonlighting specialists, the care of patients was jealously divided between the long-entrenched traditional specialties. Anesthesiologists handled difficult airways; Surgeons took care of trauma; Radiologists did the ultrasounds and read all the films, and so forth. Emergency medicine—a specialty that encompassed parts of many disciplines—was initially met with skepticism and resistance from the traditional fields.
I have been in practice long enough to remember when anesthesiologists fought against emergency physicians doing RSI and how they tried to stop us from using propofol or ketamine for procedural sedation. Orthopedists wanted to be consulted before we reduced a shoulder. Surgeons got angry if you gave morphine to a belly pain patient. In the early 1990’s at the University of Rochester, my colleague, Dr. Steve White, had to sneak into the ED with his own portable ultrasound device (with its postage stamp sized screen), because to have done so openly would have brought down the wrath of radiologists who believed that ultrasonography belonged to their department alone.
These turf battles are mostly a thing of the past, thanks to clinical studies conducted by our specialty that proved what we can and should do. But challenges regarding interdepartmental relationships still remain. In the following discussion we will look at current friction points between the ED and other departments, including radiology, anesthesia, surgery, obstetrics/gynecology, cardiology, and the internal medicine admitting services.
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