Emergency Department targets could backfire

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association (AHHA) warned that patients could suffer if hospitals were pushed to achieve unrealistic targets, such as time limits on emergency department waiting times.  The AHHA was responding to the release today of the National Health Performance Authority (NHPA) report on emergency department performance but cautioned against knee-jerk reactions to its findings.

The Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association is the independent peak membership body and advocate for the Australian healthcare system and a national voice for universally accessible, high quality healthcare.

“AHHA welcomes the release of the NHPA report which provides some valuable data on the time patients spend waiting for care in hospital emergency departments (EDs).  We recognise that this is an important issue for consumers and believe that no patient should have to wait any longer than necessary for treatment.

“However, it is also important to understand that hospital EDs cannot control the demand for their services and are often dependent on the availability of a hospital bed or a specific community-based service in order to discharge patients safely.  Delays experienced by patients in EDs are often the result of the lack of functioning of the rest of the health system, creating a major bottle-neck at the point of discharge. 

“These issues need to be addressed in order to reduce pressure on EDs so that they can provide high quality care to patients. Imposing time targets in isolation risks pushing hospitals to focus on meeting these arbitrary targets, rather than on the delivery of high quality, patient-focused care.

“The external factors that impact on emergency department performance must be acknowledged and whole of system approaches identified to support performance improvement.  This Report can play a useful role in developing appropriate and valid benchmarking to make meaningful comparisons of hospitals’ performance. It can also help in the identification of best practice approaches and indicate where delays are a function of insufficient resources within the emergency department, the hospital or the primary and community care setting.

“AHHA looks forward to working with the NHPA and other stakeholders to ensure that performance data is used to achieve lasting improvements to the quality of care provided in Australia’s public hospital system,” Ms Power said.

For more information/comment: Ms Prue Power, CEO AHHA, 0417 419 857