Emergency medicine: The right care at the right time

October 27, 2016
Dr. Erik D. Barton
Dr. Erik D. Barton

As a young medical student, Dr. Erik D. Barton was intrigued by emergency room rotations and the challenge of determining patients’ diagnoses when they arrived with various symptoms.

Today, Barton is a UC Irvine Health emergency medical specialist and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. He completed his medical degree at UC San Diego and has master’s degrees in both physiology and business administration.

He is the co-editor of the textbook Emergency Medicine: Clinical Essentials and has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles, monographs and book chapters. Listed among “America’s Top Emergency Physicians,” Barton has presented at numerous medical conferences worldwide. In recent years, he has tackled the challenge of emergency room overcrowding, ensuring that all members of the community receive the highest level of service.

Dr. Erik D. Barton shares his story

I’m all about making sure the right patient receives the right level of care at the right time. We’re Orange County’s only designated comprehensive emergency department, with a Level I trauma center, regional burn center, comprehensive stroke center and cardiac receiving center. That means we have to be ready at a moment’s notice for victims of burns, car accidents, stabbings and shootings, as well as heart attacks and strokes.

But many healthy people with non-emergent issues, like sprains and colds, will visit our emergency department rather than their primary care physician or urgent care facility. Often these are Medi-Cal patients who cannot get a timely appointment because their doctors’ schedules are overloaded. Unfortunately, if we are overcrowded we may have to go ‘on diversion’ and temporarily turn away ambulances until beds become available. Patients who desperately need lifesaving care will be diverted to another hospital.

To avoid this situation, I began putting a doctor at the front door, in triage, where he or she could do rapid screening exams on patients. For example, suppose a 22-year-old patient comes in with a fever and possible ear infection — not an emergency. If it’s still early and we’re not crowded, the patient could see the intake doctor and be out the door, prescription in hand, very quickly.

These rapid screening exams comprise 25 percent of our daily patient visits and free us up for more serious cases — like the 10 to 15 trauma patients we see every day. We’re also using our existing clinic space at UC Irvine Medical Center as an evening walk-in clinic for patients with simple, non-emergent problems, where they can go instead of waiting in line in the emergency department.

And for people with serious issues who need to be admitted but should be well enough to go home in 12 to 24 hours, we’ve established a special Emergency Department Observation Unit. This has been a huge success for us, with the average length of patient stay being only 13 hours.

We’re also planning to expand our emergency department and will be adding eight beds next year. We definitely have the resources to provide the highest level of lifesaving care in Orange County and want to be the ‘go-to’ place for patients with urgent or emergent issues. We feel a huge responsibility to provide our patients with high quality care, and hopefully — with community awareness — it will be the right level of care at the right time.

Should you head to the emergency room, urgent care clinic or walk-in medical office? Learn the difference at ucirvinehealth.org/urgentoremergency.

— Dr. Erik D. Barton, UC Irvine Health emergency medical specialist

— UC Irvine Health Marketing & Communications
Featured in UC Irvine Health Live Well Magazine Fall 2016