Emergency medicine: The right care at the right time
October 27, 2016
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
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