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How to Stay Out of the Emergency Department

Emergency Departments (ED) are becoming more crowded and, as a result, patients are being required to wait longer for care. We can all help reduce the complications of this by visiting the ED only when we have an urgent medical problem.

Emergency treatment costs significantly more than a doctor visit. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 10 percent of ED visits every year are for non-urgent medical problems. It is important to know when to go to the ED as it could save your life. But when a medical problem is not serious, it is better to treat your condition at home, or see your primary care doctor or pharmacist.

What's an emergency?

Learning the signs of serious illnesses and trusting your instincts are important. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, the following are warning signs of a medical emergency:

  • Bleeding will not stop

  • Breathing problems

  • Change in mental status (such as unusual behavior, confusion, difficulty arousing)

  • Chest pain

  • Choking

  • Coughing up or vomiting blood

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Feeling of committing suicide or murder

  • Head or spine injury

  • Severe or persistent vomiting

  • Sudden injury due to a motor vehicle accident, burns or smoke inhalation, near drowning, deep or large wound, etc.

  • Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body

  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, or change in vision

  • Swallowing a poisonous substance

  • Upper abdominal pain or pressure 

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms, go to the ED immediately. But if you have the flu or another minor illness, see your doctor or talk with a pharmacist to see if there are over-the-counter medications you can take.

If you’re not sure an emergency exists, call the ED, your doctor, or your health plan’s advice line first.

What else is available?

Look into other treatment options. A 24-hour urgent care center can help you avoid an expensive trip to the ED for treatment of fevers, broken bones, ear infections, and the flu.

How do you follow-up?

Make sure you contact your health plan regarding your Ed visit. For example, some health plans require you to tell them within 24 hours of being admitted or being seen in the ED.

What can you do?

Take good care of yourself. Stay healthy by eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking. These steps are the best ways to avoid the need for emergency medical care.