Study: Most hospitals lack emergency hand, facial specialists

Barely one out of four hospitals consistently has emergency hand and facial trauma specialists available, according to a recent study in the November issue of Annals of Plastic Surgery.

The study gathered data from 52 New York State hospitals, which were selected from the New York State Department of Health website and surveyed via phone between May 2012 and October 2013.

Only 27 percent of hospitals surveyed had consistent coverage for emergency hand trauma and only 29 percent of hospitals had a facial specialist consistently available.

For elective procedures, researchers found 88 percent of the hospitals offered specialist hand surgeries and 79 percent offered facial surgeries.

Facial and hand traumas make up more than 20 percent of the roughly 40 million injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments annually, the study authors wrote in the Annals of Plastic Surgery. If not treated by a specialist, or if treatment is delayed to transfer the patient to a location where a specialist is available, these injuries can have poorer outcomes and ultimately higher costs, the study team writes.

"Nearly every small town has a small hospital, and these hospitals deliver elective care, but there's not anyone available 24/7 for emergencies," Ashit Patel, MD, senior study author and chief of plastic surgery at Albany (N.Y.) Medical College, told Reuters.

Dr. Patel said sharing data with state legislators is a key to making changes. He has spoken with members of both parties and found similar studies that show discrepancies in access to trauma specialists in Tennessee and New Jersey. 

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