This week’s “Your Life” story is a perfect example of the common challenge millions of Americans face every year. Remember-hospital emergency rooms are set up to focus on medical emergencies. They are not designed to focus on routine health care. If you go to the ER for a problem that is NOT and emergency:
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, going to an emergency room instead of scheduling a doctor’s appointment has become a trend in this country. A recent survey shows a whopping fifty-five percent of the 90 million visits to emergency rooms were unnecessary. Translated into dollars and cents that means 40.5 million people paid up to three times as much for routine care as they would have paid at a physician’s office. They probably wasted a lot of time too because emergency rooms are not set up to care for routine illness, and they do not work on a first-come, first-served basis as many people mistakenly believe.
To ensure that the sickest patients get immediate care, emergency rooms use a triage (French for “sorting”) system of evaluation so that critical cases, such as people suffering from heart attacks or injuries from serious accidents or violent crimes, are treated first. Everyone else may have to wait quite a while before being seen. In fact, the average wait for emergency treatment nationwide is about two hours.
When you feel sick, the last thing you want to do is to sit for hours in a heavily-trafficked emergency facility before getting help. Here’s how you can spare yourself this discomfort and prepare for sudden medical problems.
Have A Family Physician: Having a regular doctor who keeps your medical history on file and who is available to see you in a pinch is one of your best recourses in an emergency.
Locate Health Care Facilities In Your Community: 24-hour walk-in clinics and minor emergency centers can care for non-urgent conditions faster and cheaper than a hospital ER.
Keep Medical Records: It’s a good idea to carry in your purse or wallet a small card that notes the name and telephone number of your regular doctor, any allergies or chronic medical ailments you may have, and any medications (along with dosage) you may be taking. Also jot down whether you are pregnant. This will save the ER doctor a lot of guesswork when trying to diagnose and treat your condition, particularly if you are unconscious.
Learn About Your Local Emergency Rooms: Not all hospitals are equipped to handle every emergency. In fact, some hospitals don’t have any emergency care. Emergency facilities are rated Level 1, 2 or 3. Those rated Level 3 are the most comprehensive trauma centers with high-tech equipment and specialists on the premises at all times. Level 1 and 2 centers can handle many kinds of emergencies, but may not have specialists on hand for some needs. Find out what type of emergency services are available at the medical facilities in your community.
Insurance Coverage: Make sure you know which emergency services are covered and what instructions you need to follow in urgent situations. For example, if you go to an ER with an ear infection, your health insurance may not cover the cost. Also, some plans require that you notify them within a few hours of being admitted. If you don’t, your treatment may not be covered.
If possible, call the ER before you go. Notification that you’re on your way will cut down on your waiting time by allowing the staff time to prepare for it. You will probably talk with a triage nurse who will ask you about your symptoms (or those of the person you are assisting) and will tell you whether you need to come in; whetherto call the Emergency Medical Service (EMS), which can be reached in most areas by calling 911; what you can do before you arrive; what information you need to bring to the hospital; and whether you will be better off going to a different ER.
The following are some general guidelines to help you decide when a trip to the ER is ncessary:
Good Reasons to Go to an Emergency Room:
Bad Reasons to Go to an Emergency Room:
Loss of consciousness.Signs of heart attack that last two minutes or more. These include: pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest; tightness, burning, or aching under the breastbone; chest pain with lightheadedness.
Signs of a stroke, including: sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg on one side of the body; sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye; loss of speech, or trouble talking or understanding speech; sudden, severe headaches with no known cause; unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially when accompanied by any other stroke symptoms.
Severe shortness of breath.
Bleeding that does not stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure.
Sudden, severe pain.
Poisoning (Note: If possible, call your local poison control center first and ask for immediate home treatment advice-certain poisons should be vomited as soon as possible while others should be diluted with water as soon as possible. Such preliminary home treatment could save your life.)
A severe or worsening reaction to an insect bite or sting, or to a medication, especially if breathing is difficult.
A major injury, such as a head trauma.
Unexplained stupor, drowsiness or disorientation.
Coughing up or vomiting blood.
Severe or persistent vomiting.
Suicidal or homicidal feelings.
Earache.Minor cuts where bleeding is controlled.
A minor dog or animal bite where bleeding is controlled (but see your doctor–a rabies shot may be necessary).
A broken bone (call your doctor to see if he/she can treat you the same day, if not– or if bone is showing, limb is deformed–go to the ER).
A sunburn or minor burn from cooking.
An insect sting or delayed swelling from a sting (if there is breathing difficulty, go to the ER).
A skin rash.
Fever (if there is a convulsion, go to the ER).
Colds and cough, sore throat, flu