Having worked in emergency rooms from DC to Boston, I have watched thousands of patients without life-threatening problems sit in the ER waiting room for hours before being seen by a doctor. It is curious why so many people end up in the ER who didn’t have to be there?
After their visit was through, I began asking my patients why they chose an emergency department over other sources of health care. Based on their feedback, here are the top three reasons patients choose to go to the ER:
1. They don’t have a relationship with a regular medical doctor. As the health-insurance market has become more competitive, businesses now frequently change insurance companies to maximize the benefits for their employees. When this happens, employees receive new insurance cards, and if their current primary care doctor does not participate with the new insurance company, they must find a new doctor – and that’s not always easy.
If you have a new primary care doctor, then you need to schedule a new patient visit, which is typically scheduled several months in the future. Obviously, if you need care immediately, that can be problematic.
2. They have a regular doctor, but he or she has no available same-day appointments. Primary care doctors fill their day with appointments to see as many patients as possible. With the current state of health care, sick-visit spots are becoming scarce. The receptionist is then trained to refer you to an emergency department or to let you find care on your own.
3. Their health concern requires more care than what a doctor’s office can provide. Although treatments often require x-rays or procedures, laceration repairs, and casting, many physicians choose to refer these procedures to hospitals and specialists’ offices. That’s not usually convenient for the patient, who is looking for one-stop medical care.
These patient needs make it possible for urgent care centers to provide a higher level of care than a typical doctor’s office, and give patients an option that is better and more cost effective than the emergency room, in most cases. The goal is to make every visit efficient, effective – and most important – simple. Life is busy, complicated, and stressful. We don’t think health care should be.