Emergency medicine was once exclusively provided in public hospitals in Australia, but now over half a million consultations per annum are in private (7% total emergency consultations). Private EDs have excess capacity and are staffed by senior doctors (majority FACEM) with open access to investigations and broad specialist inpatient services. Public EDs struggle with rising attendances and overcapacity. Private hospitals have high levels of patient satisfaction and aim to optimise service provision. A major barrier to private ED attendances is out-of-pocket costs. Insurers deem private EDs outpatient services and therefore do not contribute any funding to these attendances. Additionally state governments provide no funding while Medicare items cover only 10–15% of costs. Out-of-pocket consultation costs to patients vary nationally ($110–$480) but never cover the full cost of providing services. Patients may also pay out-of-pocket costs for investigations. Private EDs can provide many benefits to patients and the community. Patients can see senior doctors immediately (at less cost per patient than public EDs). Demand can be directed away from resource-poor public EDs. Private EDs could also provide extra surge capacity during disasters. There is a need for further strong advocacy for private emergency medicine at many levels, particularly regarding the lack of funding. Stakeholder relationships should be strengthened. Research and education about decision-making in the choice between public and private ED attendance should be encouraged, particularly regarding paramedic advice to patients. Finally, patients who have purchased private insurance should be able to utilise it during evaluation of an acute illness.
- emergency medicine