The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that over 116 million emergency room visits were made in the year 2007. Approximately 18% of persons who go to the Emergency Department are seen within 15 minutes but this immediate attention is only awarded to patients with true, life-threatening emergencies. Others may find their wait to be agonizingly much longer than this. Many patients become frustrated with the long wait times they experience in an emergency department.
The emergency department, or ED (also known as the emergency room or ER), is designed to treat true medical emergencies. An online article by the American College of Emergency Physicians Association , reminds us that treatment is not on a first-come, first-served basis. The saving of lives is priority and because of this, illnesses or injuries that are not as life-threatening have to be dealt with later. Although this may not be comforting to those who are waiting, it is a fact.
“But my condition is life-threatening!” you might protest. Often when you are hurting and uncomfortable it is difficult to think that someone else might actually be in worse condition than you are. This is why emergency rooms have a triage area to determine who will be seen first. The purpose of triage is to prioritize your symptoms into categories. Triage, which is usually done by a nurse, has three essential triage categories: 1) patients with life-threatening conditions, 2) patients with urgent conditions, and 3) those with less urgent conditions. The time the patient arrived in the ED is not a factor. What is important is the seriousness of the condition. If you can keep this in mind it can help you be better prepare for the wait. You can choose to wait it out, or go to a Walk-in Clinic or Urgent Care Center .
When to go to an Emergency Department
So when do you go to an emergency department? If you have called your family doctor to report your symptoms and he has instructed you to go there, then definitely go and don’t waste time getting there. In a true emergency time is of the essence. Here are some reasons to go to the emergency room:
Chest pain or chest pressure
Excessive, uncontrolled bleeding
Signs of a stroke
Major injury (such as head trauma)
Poisonings or drug overdose
Tips to keep in mind
Know the location of the closet hospital that provides emergency care in your area. Remember, not all hospitals have an emergency department and if they do they might not provide full service for every type of emergency.
If possible, call the emergency room before you go there. They can give you advice regarding what you should do and also give you an idea of the expected wait time.
If your illness or injury is acute and occurs at night and your doctor’s office or the clinic is not open, you will have to go to the emergency room, as they do operate on a 24-hr basis.
Always bring contact information and insurance information with you. Don’t wait until you have an emergency before you make a written record of your current medications, allergies, present illnesses, etc. Also bring the name and contact information for your current physician.
You can possibly avoid many ER visits if you first contact your doctor’s office and discuss your symptoms with them. If you do not have a primary care doctor, find one you can be comfortable with.
What the Emergency Room Cannot Do for you
There are several things you should not expect when you go to the Emergency Department.
Medication refills – Emergency rooms will not arbitrarily refill medications for you. You need to contact the prescribing doctor for that.
Regular visits – Emergency departments should never be used to replace routine visits to your family doctor and should not be used for that purpose.
Reduce your bill – Many insurance companies will bill you for an emergency room visit if they deem that your visit wasn’t really a true emergency. You will expected to pay the full amount.
In conclusion, not all emergency room visits are necessary. Keep in mind that an emergency room visit is far more costly than a trip to your doctor’s office or a walk-in clinic. You may spend a lot of time sitting and waiting if your illness or injury isn’t classified as high priority. If your symptoms are not severe, plan to go to your doctor’s office or an urgent care center instead.
Emergency Care for You: “10 Things Emergency Physicians want you to know”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Emergency Department”
Wall Street Journal: “10 Things Emergency Rooms Won’t Tell You”