According to Lexington Medical Center (n.d), a medical emergency is defined as a “medical problem that could cause death or permanent injury if not treated quickly.” Emergency departments exist for these medical emergencies. However, the definition of a medical emergency has been lost in translation, and the use of emergency departments (ED) have become so frequent for minor things such as a sore throat. The problem lies in the fact that ED visits are expensive and with so many unnecessary ED visits a year the costs keep on rising, and this is one of the main reasons why in 2014 the United States spent $13 trillion in Healthcare (Fay, 2018). It is estimated that more than $18 billion could be saved if ER’s were used appropriately and only when there is an actual medical emergency (Fay, 2018).
Unless your symptoms or injuries are life-threatening, an urgent care visit or a visit with your primary care physician is more appropriate. For instance, some documented unnecessary emergency department visit have been due to fevers, flu or cold symptoms, ear infections, seasonal allergies, bronchitis, sprains, vomiting or diarrhea, urinary tract infections, minor back pain, etc. (Fay, 2018). Typically, none of these conditions are life-threatening and can just as easily be taken care of by your primary or an urgent care if your primary care physician can’t accommodate your schedule.
Virginia has been working really hard to implement innovative ways to not only increase the effectiveness of patient care but also reduce health care costs. With the help of the Virginia Department of Health and ConnectVirginia, Virginia has become the first state in the nation to implement the Emergency Department Care Coordination (EDCC) Program (Yheskel, 2018). The EDCC Program connects all emergency departments in the Commonwealth allowing all ED providers to communicate about their patient’s care in real time, and also have access to Virginia’s Prescription Monitoring Program and the Advance Healthcare Directive Registry (Yheskel, 2018). It is hoped that the EDCC Program will reduce ED costs, reduce the amount of time patients are in the ED and improve the quality of care the patients receive because providers will be able to immediately see what services and results the patient has already had. This will also avoid the unnecessary and wasteful duplication of these services. The EDCC program is a huge step forward in the right direction in improving the health of Virginians and reducing emergency department costs. While this is a good first step, more needs to be done to connect all health care providers in the state, not just hospitals.
The government is doing their part in helping us improve our healthcare access and reduce our health care costs by reducing ED costs. However, we must stay informed and learn ways we can help at the individual level. Next time you or a loved one is deciding to go to the emergency department, ask is this really life-threatening? If not, call your primary care physician or go to the nearest urgent care.
Fay, B. (2018, May). Emergency Room vs. Urgent Care: Differences, Costs & Options. Retrieved August 12, 2018, from https://www.debt.org/medical/emergency-room-urgent-care-costs/
Lexington Medical Center. (n.d.). What Is a Medical Emergency? – Lexington Medical Center – Wake Forest Baptist Health. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from https://lexington.wakehealth.edu/Services/Emergency/What-Is-a-Medical-Emergency.htm
Yheskel, O. (2018). Virginia Launches First-in-the-Nation Program to Connect Emergency Departments Across the Commonwealth. Retrieved August 11, 2018, from https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2018/july/headline-828130-en.html