Millions of Americans choose the emergency room for routine health care instead of visiting a regular physician. Some are forced to do this because they lack health insurance or cannot pay bills. Some people believe they will get problems dealt with faster at the emergency room, instead of calling for an appointment with a regular family doctor or general practitioner.
In 2005, there were approximately ten million emergency room visits for non-emergency care. An average visit to the emergency room costs more than $380, while the average visit to a physician’s office costs around $60. Unnecessary emergency room visits can cost everyone billions of dollars.
Unnecessary emergency room visits also make the wait times longer for everyone. If you’ve sat in the waiting room, wondering when you’ll be taken care of you’re not alone. We all have horror stories — I vividly remember a four hour wait that ended with nine stitches in the palm of my right hand at about three o’clock in the morning.
So how do you know if you really need to rush to the emergency room? A true medical emergency is serious, and needs immediate attention. Some examples:
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Obvious bone fractures
- Heart attacks
- Wounds that require sutures
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty breathing
If you do have a serious medical emergency, go directly to the nearest emergency room or call 911 or another local emergency number. Ask a friend or family member to drive if you are unable, or call for an ambulance. You should also contact your regular physician so they know what’s happened and can coordinate follow-up care. Call as soon as possible — within forty-eight hours at most.
Not sure if you should go to the emergency room with your problem? Call your doctor first. Ask what you should do. If your regular doctor is not available to treat you but you don’t have a situation that needs the emergency room, you can always go to an urgent care center or walk-in clinic. Many of these places are open outside of regular doctor’s office house for non-emergency problems.