Out of the 130 million emergency room visits that hospitals across the country receive every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 43.5% of those end up with the patient being seen in fewer than 15 minutes. Only 16.2 million results in hospital admission, and an even smaller fraction results in admission to a critical care unit.
ER diversion's financial toll
Emergency room visits that could be handled elsewhere are costing the healthcare system a whopping $32 billion a year. Millions of annual emergency room visits are avoidable, with non-emergency patients making it difficult for true emergencies in the ER. This also raises health care costs for everyone else.
Alternatives to ER diversion
The good news is there are alternatives the public can take to prevent unnecessary visits and help avoid ER diversion altogether.
Call your doctor
You can seek help from physicians without physically seeing one. When you make an effort to call your doctor and discuss your concerns, whether via telephone or a telehealth visit, they can attend to you and advise you on the next steps to take. You don't have to make the trip to the ER, as you're already getting professional advice from the provider you trust the most.
Consult a symptom checker
It has become common practice that patients look up symptoms first before heading to the emergency room. While you shouldn't rely too much on what you read on the internet, looking up your symptoms allows you to have a better understanding of your situation. You can then discern whether or not it's worth a visit to the ER or a non-urgent clinic.
Designed to lessen the burden on ERs, walk-in clinics are typically set up inside a large retailer or pharmacy and are staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. They typically treat less serious conditions and do not offer services like x-rays or MRIs. More often than not, they provide basic medical services, including routine vaccinations, evaluation of cold and flu symptoms, and treatment of minor physical injuries. It's best to give them a call or check online to determine the list of services they offer.
If your health concern is urgent but non-life-threatening, urgent care clinics can be of assistance. Urgent medical conditions aren't considered emergencies but still demand immediate medical attention, usually within 24 hours. These include accidents and falls, cuts that don't need stitches, minor broken bones and fractures, skin rashes and infections, urinary tract infections, and vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration. Urgent clinics typically have MDs on staff in addition to nurse practitioners and physician assistants, so you know you're in good hands.
Of course, it should be noted that if you have a life-threatening emergency like severe chest pains or pressure, seizures, choking, loss of feeling or an inability to move, or severe burns, the best course of action is to still dial 9-1-1.
About Find the Right Care
Find the Right Care is a resource that comes from a collaboration of Health Action Council with UnitedHealthcare and CVS to educate communities on ways individuals can find the most appropriate and affordable care.