The Emergency Room is ready 24 hours a day to handle a medical emergency or health crisis, oftentimes diagnosing complex, critical conditions in a fast-paced setting. This can be used by the low income as well as families that do have have health insurance. ERs can also be used by patients who only have coverage from the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
Unfortunately, ERs are often also used as a catch-all for all types of non-emergency medical problems which ends up costing taxpayers, the medical community and citizens a great deal of money and time. Urgent care clinics and primary care physicians treat less critical, non-emergency issues at a fraction of the cost and time, therefore, exercising good judgment as to when to go to the ER is essential. As using a community clinic will save patients much more money on their medical bills.
Firstly, ALWAYS follow what your doctor advises you to do when there is a medical issue in your life. If your doctor tells you to go to the ER, you go. However, if you are unsure of when to go, here is a list of guidelines to follow:
*If you normally feel comfortable enough to address a health issue (i.e. a urinary tract infection, sore throat or stomach bug) with your physician or an urgent care facility, head there first. This will cost less and insurance companies may cover more of the bill.
*If you are bleeding profusely or have a jagged cut with uneven edges that has not clotted, stitches are probably needed.
*Chest pain (with accompanying symptoms of radiating pain, sweating, vomiting, feelings of unease)
*Shortness of breath (sudden onset or an asthma attack).
*Slurred speech or difficulty understanding speech, weakness/paralysis particularly to one side of the body.
*Sudden onset of fainting or loss of balance, falling, sudden vision loss or vision changes.
*An eye injury (i.e. stabbing object or hard scratch to the eyeball) or head injury (i.e. concussion-like symptoms or a hard hit to the head).
*High fevers or a fever with rash (especially newborn babies with fevers greater than 100.4F)
*Seizures especially with new onset symptoms.
*Sudden and severe headache.
*Persistent and severe diarrhea/vomiting.
*Serious burn injuries.
*Extremely high or low blood sugars not responsive to treatment.
*Broken bones or dislocated joints.
*Intractable pain particularly if it effects movement (i.e. neck/back/knee pain).
All of these costs of using an Emergency Room can add up quickly. Many families (whether they are low income or wealthy) often fall into debt when using them. This does not have to happen to you. We have information on many assistance programs for paying medical bills.
This is just a small sampling of examples of when you or a family member should head to an ER. But if you think another health care center will meet the need instead, find free community clinics. Every situation and every patient is different which must be taken into consideration. If you have any doubts, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
However, if you find you or your family members are using the ER multiple times a year, you may need to reassess the situation. Keep in mind ERs typically have long waits, are expensive to utilize (co-pays are usually much higher than a primary care visit) and are full of sick people which can expose you to even more germs and illness. Your health and safety are of utmost importance (as well as reducing medical costs), therefore, use sound judgment regarding which route to take.