The Emergency Room Often Is Not the Right Place To Go

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female doctor with laptop in mask talking with older male patient in mask

We aim to help all of our patients be as healthy as they can be. As this past year has vividly shown, illness can creep up on us slowly, or it can hit suddenly.

This is why we strongly recommend that everyone have a primary care provider, also known as a PCP. Not only will he or she make sure you get the necessary annual screenings for your age, or those you should get each year – it also means you will also have a UH physician with whom you have a connection, one who can work with you to improve your health and well-being, see you when it’s necessary, or when you need to get something checked out.

That PCP might also find symptoms that need to be treated, which can save you from illness, or even save your life. We often hear anecdotes about this happening.

The ER Can Be Needlessly Expensive

The situation that you don’t want to be in – but which too many people can fall into – is going to the emergency department when that is unnecessary. Too often, that can become the default option for someone who becomes ill and doesn’t know where to go.

We know this happens, because half of people who go to the emergency room could be cared for in an ambulatory setting, while 25 percent could be cared for by primary care. We have found that many of them go to the emergency room for back pain or knee plan, for coughs or a sore throat, for abdominal pain and diarrhea, for lacerations and bruises. This not only wastes hours of your time, it needlessly costs you money.

There are three reasons why avoiding an unnecessary trip to the emergency room is essential.

  • It is much less expensive and much more convenient for you. The cost of seeing a PCP or going to an urgent care is a small fraction of what an emergency department visit can cost. Also, your wait time in an emergency department for what is a non-emergency can be many hours.
  • You reduce the risk of exposing yourself and your family to patients with COVID-19 or other contagious illnesses in the emergency department.
  • By avoiding the emergency room, you free up resources for COVID-19 patients or other ill or injured patients who do need to be seen immediately.

It’s also important to have a PCP. Please make it a point to see that doctor for a check-up so that not only some illnesses can be prevented, or stopped in their tracks, but so you have someone who knows you and your health history that you can contact with questions or guidance about your health.

Also, we have made it simple for you to access unplanned care. You can do a telehealth visit with your PCP, or, if you don’t have one, you can still connect with a physician or nurse practitioner through a telehealth visit. If you have a PCP, you can often get a visit the same day, or you can go to one of our UH Urgent Care facilities, found throughout our region.

Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD, is Chief Clinical Transformation and Quality Officer at University Hospitals.

Related Links

The best time to find a primary care doctor? Before you actually need one. It’s never too early to start preventive care. Long-term patient-doctor relationships help create long-term health. Learn more about primary care at University Hospitals and find a provider who suits your health care needs and those of your loved ones. Also, learn more about where to go, based on your illness, injury or condition.

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