E.R. (do you need it?)

According to the CDC, there are approximately 35 million injury-related visits to US emergency departments each year. That’s 27% of all ER visits. While many of these injuries may have been best managed in other settings such as primary care offices or urgent care walk-in clinics, the most severe and obvious traumas are handled at hospital-based emergency departments. 

If you have a true traumatic injury that immediately debilitates you or that you or others around you believe could be life-threatening (let’s say a broken leg or hip or you’re unconscious from a fall or something involving loss of blood), you are calling an ambulance or being taken to the ER. This is the most obvious situation that requires true emergency care immediately and is more likely to require a surgical treatment or hospitalization. 

Fortunately, in most of the US everyone will be treated emergently at highly qualified trauma centers without regard to insurance or ability to pay. Treatment now happens reliably in these circumstances and occurs in the only appropriate setting. 

Unfortunately, many of the 35 million ER visits for injuries do not require the high-level trauma and emergency services that are available at a hospital emergency department and therefore result in many unnecessary and expensive trips to the ER. The most common unnecessary ER visits are for pain. The vast majority of people with headaches, back pain, toothaches, and sore throats should find a better and more cost-effective way to get help. A portion of these unnecessary ER visits seemed necessary to individuals because they could not reach their personal physician or their doctor could not accommodate them into their schedule immediately or on the same day. They simply did not know where else to go for timely care.

Most acute injuries do not require care at the emergency department of a hospital but often need to be addressed by a doctor on the same day that they occur. Each year in the US there are an additional 39.5 million doctors’ office visits for injuries. Acute injuries like sprains, strains, lacerations, abrasions, bruises, many broken bones, concussions and other injuries from falls, collisions, bicycle accidents, equipment injuries, and more may be serious and require urgent treatment by a doctor but are handled more efficiently and cost-effectively in the ambulatory care setting of a doctor’s office or urgent care clinic.