Sunday, February 22, 2009

Proper Use of the Emergency Room

I had a patient the other day who came in to the emergency room (the ED) at the suggestion of his primary care doctor. He had extremely high blood pressure at his doctor's office, but by the time he came into the ED, he had taken the blood pressure meds he was supposed to take, and his blood pressure had dropped significantly - almost normal! In addition, even though he had extremely high blood pressure, he never had any symptoms from it, and so although we might take steps to lower it in the ED, we likely would not admit him, especially now that his blood pressure had come down to almost normal after taking his blood pressure medications, which is how it should be.

The patient was livid. He had paid his $50 to get evaluated in the emergency room and demanded that he be admitted. He claimed his doctor had promised him an admission, which was not true, as we talked to that doctor ourselves.

Although not great, I use this as an example of how people misuse the ED and have the wrong preconceptions about it. Some people I understand - they don't have insurance, so they basically use the ED as their primary care. I don't like it, and I think there are better ways to deal with this or solve this problem (a whole topic in itself), but I understand. What I don't understand is why some people come into the ED at all when they have good primary care or have non-urgent problems.

The Emergency Room is supposed to be for EMERGENCIES. It is for people who can barely breath from pneumonia, not for people suffering from run-of-the-mill colds. It is for people who have broken bones and fractures, not for people who have had lower back pain for the last 6 months. It is for people who are vomiting so much or have so much diarrhea that they are seriously dehydrated, not for people who may have one episode of vomiting or diarrhea but are still able to eat and drink just fine. It is for people who are having a heart attack, not for people who have had "chest pain" that has been proven to be not related to their heart for the 10th time.

Not only is it a huge waste of public and hospital funds, but I don't understand why people would want to spend hours and hours in the uncomfortable waiting room of an emergency room when they can make an appointment with their primary care provider. In fact, when it gets super super busy, and people stay outside in the waiting room for hours and hours waiting to get seen, you can actually see people start to leave. In my opinion, if they weren't sick enough to stay and wait, they shouldn't have been there in the first place.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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