Emergency room physicians see it all too often; people having the worst day of their lives. Dr. Brett Belchetz is one of those physicians, and he believes there’s a loophole in the medical system that involves drunk drivers and it needs to be fixed.
Tragedies of all types find a way into emergency rooms everyday. Some of the hardest situations to understand are those tragedies that are easily preventable in the first place. Injuries and death associated with drunk driving often strike emergency room workers even harder because of how senseless the tragedy is and how easily preventable it could have been.
Dr. Belchetz tells a story about one of his patient’s that was transported to his emergency room one evening, after an accident that left her and two others in another vehicle injured, due to her claims of being injured. As a safety precaution, its policy with law enforcement that following an accident, a person must be transferred to a hospital to be evaluated before a police interview or breath test can be conducted. “When I examined this woman, she smelled strongly of liquor, slurred her speech and was unsteady on her feet,” he said.
After a thorough medical workup, it was revealed she had not suffered any significant injuries, and was released. Dr. Belchetz’s patient quickly signed herself out of the hospital, walking out before police had a chance to arrive to document her level of intoxication. Dr. Belchetz was unable to measure her blood alcohol content (BAC) in the hospital because she refused any and all laboratory testing during her time in the emergency room. This is where Dr. Belchetz says the patient’s confidentiality clause left him powerless to notify authorities of his suspicion of his patient. “It forced me to watch as someone who had possibly injured two others in a criminal manner escape justice,” he explained.
The incident has prompted Dr. Belchetz to speak out. Some have argued that it is possible for doctors to notify police in some cases if they believe a patient is suspected of drunk driving and will get behind the wheel again. Dr. Belchetz wants the law to be changed so that doctors can report all suspected impaired drivers to police, just like they can for a patient with a gunshot wound. “We must be willing to enforce the sanctions that will keep innocent victims from harm.”
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