Research tackles critical emergency healthcare issues

  • For two decades, demand for emergency department services in Australia has outpaced population growth
  • In fact, in 2022-2023 more than 8.8 million public hospital emergency department presentations occurred nationwide* or 334 presentations per 1000 population
  • Today, the Emergency Medicine Foundation (EMF) launches a $1.3 million suite of new research grants dedicated to addressing the pressing issues in emergency care to improve patient outcomes in Australia

28 February 2024

With demand for emergency department (ED) services in Queensland growing rapidly and wait times increasing, a $1.3 million research boost aims to improve how patients are cared for in a medical emergency.

Professor Hugh Grantham, Emergency Medicine Foundation (EMF) Chair said demand for ED services in Australia had outpaced population growth since 2011-12, resulting in more than 8.8 million ED patient presentations in 2022-2023.

“Without research and novel solutions to this complex issue, our hospitals will continue to struggle under increasing pressure and patients will suffer,” Prof Grantham said.

In addition to the EMF-funded major investigation into barriers to effective patient flow in Queensland’s public hospitals, 22 new emergency medicine projects will be launched at today’s EMF Grants Award Ceremony.

They include including innovative ways to improve pain management in children, treating diabetic patients, and optimising treatment for patients who call an ambulance for nausea or vomiting.

EMF-funded research is proving both effective and wide-reaching, with a recent mental health study projected to save the health system $30 million.

The SAFE STEPS project aims to prevent mental health patients reaching crisis point and requiring a visit to ED and possible hospital admission.

Associate Professor Manaan Kar Ray, Divisional Director (Mental Health), Princess Alexandra Hospital said busy EDs were ill-suited for patients with mental health challenges, but during a crisis there were few alternatives for rapid assessment and support.

“Each year, an increasing number of mental health patients receive better support in the community and have been successfully diverted away from EDs,” A/Prof Kar Ray said.

“Without early detection and enhanced community support, a large proportion of these patients would have needed an inpatient stay.

“Putting aside the human cost, a conservative financial estimate equates to $30 million of system savings.”

Prof Grantham said bottlenecks triggered by uneven patient flow often caused delays in hospital admissions, but long wait times for hospital beds did not begin and end in the ED.

“Ambulance ramping and ED overcrowding are symptoms of complex whole-of-health issues,” he said.

“The issue of system-wide delays from triage to admission to treatment and discharge is one of the Australian healthcare system’s most challenging problems and it severely impacts vulnerable patient groups, including aged care and mental health patients,” he said.

Early results from EMF’s flagship patient flow project show obstacles to efficient treatment and discharge are caused by bottlenecks throughout the system.

“These issues result in long ED wait times and new research shows improving patient flow requires whole-of-system solutions,” Prof Grantham said.

“UQ researchers have found most efforts to improve patient flow focused on ED efficiencies but interventions for the remainder of the patient journey were largely neglected.

“We need to ensure there are initiatives to improve patient flow pre-ED, within-ED and post-ED.”

The Study on Patient Flow in Queensland’s Public Hospitals project is conducted by a research team comprising experts from CSIRO – Australia’s national science agency, Queensland Health, University of Queensland, and Queensland Ambulance Service. Researchers are analysing data from 25 of Queensland’s largest public hospitals over six years.




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