Diplomate of the Board of Certification in Emergency Medicine Alex Beuning, MD, FAAEP: The BCEM Offers Understanding & Guidelines for Rural Emergency Medicine During COVID-19
The Board of Certification in Emergency Medicine (BCEM) has board-certified emergency physicians working in rural emergency departments across the country and is concerned about the potential disparity in resources for the care of rural Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural America has a higher percentage of elderly patients, who have an increased risk of severe illness from a COVID-19 infection. Current estimates are that patients with COVID-19 infection who are over 80 years of age have a mortality rate of more than 10%. Rural America also has fewer physicians per capita and almost no pulmonary/critical care specialists to manage severe lung infections that could occur during this pandemic. Their patients often require transfer to urban centers for critical illnesses, but unfortunately, the ambulance and urban critical care service may be overtaxed, leading to delays in definitive care for rural patients. As a result of these factors, the BCEM is strongly encouraging providers who work in rural communities to use their voice to reinforce the messaging about social distancing until effective treatments or an effective vaccine are universally available.
There are many sources of information on COVID-19, with differing recommendations. The messages are being spread rapidly through conventional news media, social media, and informal “word-of-mouth” channels. Even “official” communications through the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and state and local health departments have varied, and occasionally contradicted each other. It would not be surprising if many rural Americans are unsure of what to do and what source of information to trust in this rapidly evolving health crisis.
While these formal information channels are critical to developing a unified response and spreading current knowledge and best practices as they evolve, word from a trusted, local emergency physician is a great way to reinforce the key messages we want our patients to hear. Local emergency physicians are at the epicenter of their community’s response and are poised to help local media sources and community groups translate the key components of our state and federal partners’ messages in ways that will best get to the highest risk groups in their communities such as the elderly population.
The BCEM is proud of the work done by its board-certified physicians who are providing essential care to patients during this pandemic.