About 10 percent of the nation’s emergency room (ER) doctors leave their profession 10 years into their practice, causing a serious manpower shortage, according to a study published at a medical conference yesterday.
ER doctors give up their practice for many reasons, including the flawed payment system under the national health insurance system and having to work in a perennially high-stress environment, said Lee Yi-kung (李宜恭), chief of the Emergency Department at Buddhist Tzu Chi General Hospital in Chiayi’s Dalin Township (大林).
“We found that ER doctors quit their practice more often than hospital-based doctors specializing in other fields,” Lee said at this year’s Annual Conference of the Taiwan Society of Emergency Medicine.
Lee and his team surveyed 1,721 registered ER doctors nationwide and followed their careers from 1997 to 2010. They found that during the 13 years, 10 percent of the doctors have either retired or changed their specialty.
The turnover was higher than that of doctors with other hospital-based specialties, like radiology, pathology and anesthesiology.
“The study results yield several implications,” Lee said, urging health authorities to pay attention to the brain drain situation in emergency rooms.
With 1,100 ER doctors taking care of 6 million patients per year, Lee said that an increasing workload resulting from the brain drain could drive even more doctors away.
The present ER doctor-patient ratio is already short of the 1:5,000 standard set by the Department of Health, he added.
“Being an ER doctor is a profession that requires accumulation of experience,” he said.
Unfortunately, the national health insurance system, which covers 99 percent of the population, does not recognize that, Lee added. ER doctors, for example, are only paid NT$400 (US$13) for conducting an intubation, a process that is done under high stress and requires intense concentration, he said.
The two-day conference, themed Refining Emergency Medicine Specialty through Excelling Medical Education, attracted physicians from China, Hong Kong and Canada.