Going through a monstrous amount of stress is a given when going to the Emergency Room, from the long lines to nurses and doctors who are overwhelmed to the patients themselves, the ER is a perfect recipe for sensory overload for children with autism. In fact, the feeling of stress that comes with going to the ER can be magnified to such a degree for children with autism that it can undermine their ability to get the treatment they need.
To address this growing concern—especially since the number of autism diagnoses in the U.S. is at an all-time high—a small but increasing number of hospital ERs all over the country are setting up accommodations that take into concern issues certain patients might encounter, not only improving the quality of care in the process, but also increasing efficiency. According to Dr. Fareed Fareed, Medical Director of the Emergency Department at Heath Alliance Hospital in Kingston, New York, “There’s a growing need. It’s ensuring you’re meeting the needs of a segment of the population.”
So what changes to the way that ERs are run could help to make the experience better for children with autism? One way is by some facilities revamping their treatment protocols—one instance in the Nemours Children’s Hospital emergency department in Orlando, FL, parents are asked soon after admitting their child as to whether he or she has autism. If the answer is yes, the hospital staffers then designate the child specifically, performing necessary procedures in a room set aside for patients with autism.
This effort first started with children’s hospitals in New Jersey and D.C.—and more recently with facilities in New York and PA—that treat patients of all ages pursuing accommodations in the ER that would soon spread to other parts of the hospitals, including the radiology department or the operating room.
These changes are coming just in time when the demand for autism-focused treatment is more important than ever before due to the increased number of children receiving positive diagnoses. Patients with autism are some of those most likely to use the health system broadly and emergency facilities specifically. In addition, children with autism are far more inclined to seek out mental health treatment in the ER. This parallels with a vast increase in adult patients with autism using the emergency department.
“People on the [autism] spectrum utilize the health care system more often. They disproportionately are using our services,” said Edward Jauch, Director of Emergency Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. But by looking at the issue from a cost standpoint, then it becomes clear how important it is to care for patients with autism in an effective and efficient manner.