Nova Scotia

Cape Breton ER aiming to prevent physician burnout

The emergency department at the Northside General Hospital in North Sydney is making some changes in an attempt to deal with two chronic problems: frequent ER closures and physician exhaustion.

Health authority says less urgent cases may be told to return another day or sent to their family doctor

Northside General Hospital in North Sydney. (CBC)

The emergency department at the Northside General Hospital in North Sydney is making some changes in an attempt to deal with two chronic problems: frequent ER closures and physician exhaustion.

The Northside General, like many other hospitals in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, often has to close down its emergency department due to what the health authority refers to as "unavailability of doctors."

According to Brett MacDougall, director of hospital emergency services for the Nova Scotia Health Authority's eastern zone, one of the problems is that doctors often get caught up working all day and are then required to treat patients late into the night. 

"On some days it can be all the way up to 11 o'clock," he said, noting such "workload challenges" can make it very difficult for doctors to meet their commitments the next day.

The change

MacDougall outlined the changes that will be implemented on Monday. 

The hospital is currently open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those registration and triage hours will be extended by an hour, and a doctor and other staff will assess and treat patients until 6 p.m.

But if there's more people in the waiting room than can be treated in that time, less urgent cases may have to return on another day or make an appointment with their family doctor, MacDougall said.

"We want to make sure we're taking care of the patients that are the sickest, and provide options to patients who may not have as a serious an illness as the others," he said.

MacDougall said after consulting the physicians, it's clear to him the changes are necessary to prevent excessive work hours, with the accompanying risk of doctor burnout.

Retaining those physicians is paramount if patients are to receive the best possible care, he said.

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