One of the most stubborn problems in modern healthcare systems is congestion in the emergency room. According to a study conducted by three organizations: NPR, Harvard T.H Chan School of public health, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, about 30 percent of the American population visits the ER when in need of some medical care.
This is a significant setback to emergency rooms. The non-urgent cases not only put undue stress on staff and resources but also have the potential to cause loss of life. Lives may be lost due to the lack of equipment and staff to attend to patients in dire need of help because they are busy attending to the non-urgent cases.
Emergency rooms are by design meant to handle emergency cases. The equipment and staff in these rooms have been set up to attend to emergency cases. When hospitals allocate such resources to non-urgent instances, most of these resources are underutilized.
What is worrying is that this trend has a long tradition. According to a study conducted over three decades ago, this trend has remained stubborn since the 1990s. The study found out that 37 percent of patients who visited the ER in that period were treated for non-urgent conditions.
What ER doctors think
According to Dr. Eric Forsthoefel who is an emergency room doctor, most of these visits are due to the chronic lack of primary healthcare providers. Since the patients may not have a way to access health care in a primary care facility, they are forced to seek help in an emergency room.
Why people visit emergency rooms despite not needing urgent care
According to a study conducted in 1991 by the Annals of emergency medicine, patients interviewed at George Washington University hospital’s emergency room gave three main reasons for visiting the ER to seek non-urgent care.
They stated that they were there because accessing primary healthcare services would take long. Other participants stated that they liked the convenience of an emergency room because they were not signed up by a primary healthcare provider.
According to the study, people from low-income backgrounds visited the emergency room because a primary health care provider did not cover them. The emergency rooms were the only place they could get medical care without having to dig deep in their pockets.
Patients from high income earning backgrounds and those with insurance covers, on the other hand, stated that they visited the ER because they thought it was convenient. By visiting the ER, they did not have to spend a lot of time scheduling a visit.
About Dr. Eric Forsthoefel
Dr. Eric Forsthoefel is a medical emergency room doctor that studied at University of Louisville and later Louisiana state university where he studied emergency medicine. Dr. Eric holds emergency medical licenses both in the state of Los Angeles and in Florida. Dr. Eric Forsthoefel also has more than six years of experience working in an emergency room.