For millions of Americans the emergency room is a go-to destination for healthcare problems – even when they are not emergencies. In this article we are going to talk about:
- When you should go to the Emergency Room for care
- Why there are huge benefits to not going to the Emergency Room if it is not an emergency; and
- How to find care if you have a problem that is not an emergency, but cannot wait for an appointment to see your regular provider
First things first, When Should You Go to the Emergency Room
Emergency rooms are for medical emergencies. Luckily there is a pretty straight forward list of problems (or symptoms) that indicate that you need to go to the ER. You should go to the emergency room if you have one of more of the following symptoms:
- Persistent chest pain, especially if it radiates to your arm or jaw or is accompanied by sweating, vomiting or shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Any severe pain, particularly in the abdomen or starting halfway down the back
- Sudden clumsiness, loss of balance or fainting
- Sudden difficulty speaking, or trouble understanding speech
- Altered mental status or confusion, including suicidal thoughts
- Sudden weakness or paralysis, especially on one side of the face or body
- Severe heart palpitations
- Sudden, severe headache
- Sudden testicular pain and swelling
- Newborn baby with a fever (a baby less than three months old with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher needs to be seen right away)
- Falls that cause injury or occur while taking blood thinning medications
- Sudden vision changes, including blurred or double vision and full or partial vision loss
- Broken bones or dislocated joints
- Deep cuts that require stitches — especially on the face — or a large open wound that won’t stop bleeding
- Head or eye injuries
- Severe flu or cold symptoms
- High fevers or fevers with rash
- Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
- Severe and persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Serious burns
- Seizures without a previous diagnosis of epilepsy
You should not go to the emergency room if:
- You do not have any of the above symptoms; and
- You are going for an issue that can be treated by your primary physician and that is not causing immediate discomfort or poses serious risk
In fact, most healthcare concerns are not emergencies and should not be treated in the emergency room setting. Unfortunately, millions of people each year go to the emergency room for issues which can be treated at another setting – at a lower cost – and within a more convenient time frame.
According to a recent article, 48% of those who visited an emergency room for treatment did so not because they were experiencing an emergency – but because they could not get an appointment with their primary care provider at the time that they needed.
Don’t worry, at the end of this article we will talk about how to get appropriate care if you cannot see your doctor, but don’t need to go to the emergency room.
Before you go to the emergency room, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I truly have an emergency, or am I going to the emergency room for the convenience of being seen right away?
- Is there an alternative place where I can get the care that I need that is more appropriate for the issues/symptoms I am experiencing?
The Benefits of Seeking Care Elsewhere if you Do Not Have an Emergency
While it is true that the 24/7 access of the emergency room provides convenience, there are also significant drawbacks to going to the emergency room for care that could be provided at another setting.
The emergency room is costly – The convenience of going to the emergency room is going to come with a hefty price. The average emergency room visit in the U.S. costs $2,168.00 – the average visit cost at an urgent care clinic with insurance is less than $60.00 (without is $120.00).
By seeking care at a more appropriate facility – like a walk-in clinic, urgent care center, or by calling your primary care provider you could be saving a significant amount of money. You could also save a significant amount of time.
A trip to the emergency room could be a very time intensive endeavor – particularly if you are not having an emergency. Depending on the emergency room it could be hours before you are seen, and even more time before you are appropriately processed and discharged. This is because emergency rooms are often under-staffed and over capacity – and true emergencies are prioritized. In contrast visits to urgent care centers are relatively fast – with patients being seen, diagnosed, and discharged in under one hour in many instances. For the best outcomes, it is always a good idea to start with your primary care provider. This is a physician who knows the most about your individual health history and conditions. Before heading to the emergency room see if there is an after-hours service through your regular doctor’s office – this could save you time, money, and the convenience of having to leave home.
If I Don’t Have an Emergency, but it is After Hours, What Are My Alternatives?
Often, emergency room visits occur not because there is an emergency, but because patients don’t know where to find help elsewhere – especially if a medical problem pops up after hours, or on the weekends. This can be particularly true if the medical problem involves a child. If you are sure that your medical problem is not an emergency – but you need immediate care – here are some alternatives to the ER that will save you time, money, and offer added convenience.
- Call you doctor’s office to see if there is an after-hours service or nurse help line to get assistance and guidance with your problem
- See if there is an urgent care center that you can go to (the majority of these centers now provide late night and weekend medical care)
- Check your insurers website for tools and resources to find care – an example of this is telemedicine calls and help lines for those covered by certain insurance companies
- Check your patient health portal to see if there is reliable information on your condition and/or over the counter treatments that you can provide before going to ER
As always, if you believe that you are truly experiencing a medical emergency, or have any of the above symptoms that we discussed please go to the emergency room, but if your medical issue is driven more by a sense of convenience, rather than being a true emergency, see if there is another pathway to get the care you need in a more convenient affordable way!
DocResponse is deeply committed to providing patients the diagnostic information that they need when they need it, and was recently recognized in a Harvard study as the most accurate online diagnostic tool in the market. 45% of those who have used the DocResponse platform have saved a trip to the doctor’s office or ER! To find out more about how your provider practice or healthcare organization can provide DocResponse to the patient you serve please contact us at info@DocResponse.com