Your Healthy Family

Nov 14, 2012 9:58 AM by Marissa Torres

ER Epidemic

The face of the emergency room patient is changing, and despite what you may have thought, a new study says it's no longer a place for just the uninsured.
We're learning that more Coloradoans with insurance are going to the ER instead of going to their doctor.

It's supposed to be a last resort. A 24 hour-- 7 day a week service for anyone with a medical emergency. But a new study by the Colorado Trust says the role of the emergency room is changing.

"This study told us that we are using emergency departments a lot more than many of the other states in the United States and why," says director of ER services, Laura Rogers.

According to Colorado Public News-- a survey of 10,000 Coloradoans found 44 percent of visits to the ER were for ailments that could have been treated at a doctor's office.

Memorial Hospital has the busiest emergency room in the state.

"We have anywhere from 14 -16% that are admitted to the hospital. Kind of low- other hospitals that have maybe less of an issue have maybe admit 24% of the patients."

The survey also found that nearly all patients either chose the ER because it was after doctor's hours or they were unable to get an appointment to see a doctor as quickly as they needed.

"The best care, usually, is your relationship with a primary care physician. The hard part is there are not enough primary care physicians and the primary care physicians are not always available at 10 o'clock at night."

Rogers says they've also come across a new trend with young adults.

"They don't really feel like they need a primary care provider, {that} they can handle whatever they have a few times. Maybe they have a very severe cold and they don't have a primary doctor to call, so they end up in the ER or urgent care."

Only patients know just how sick they are and an ER has no choice but to treat them. But Rogers says a patient who could have waited to be seen by a doctor-- potentially takes the bed of someone in severe need.

Another issue is cost.

Pacific Source Insurance found its average cost of treating a sore throat was $127 in a doctor's office. In an emergency room- that number sky rockets to $500.

A cheaper option is urgent care, and even easier-- a trip to the drug store.

Some doctors say routine medical care is just impractical now-a-days and the US health system has failed patients. Colorado Public News says those beliefs are prompting some Denver hospitals to consider adding weekend-- even weeknight-- hours to it's primary care clinics.

If you're not sure whether or not you need to go to the ER, Memorial Hospital offers an informational nurse hotline at 444-CARE.

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