Reasons to Go to the ER: Part 1

Why do we go to the ER? For a cold? A cough?

No: The ER is where true medical emergencies are presented by a patient and treated by a skillful emergency medical “pit crew”. Their job is not to be your primary care doctor, it is to save a limb, to treat people who have been in an accident, to save the life of a friend, brother, sister, father and mother. When we misuse the ER for coughs, to get a general health check up, we are using up the resources in our local area that could be used to treat a truly sick person faster. Even with the current process of triaging patients (prioritizing the severity of symptoms in patients and ordering who will get treated in which order), having nurses and other medical personnel tied up with registering non-emergencies makes little sense.

What if, while the ER fills up with non-emergencies, the nurses have to turn someone away who has a deadly and sudden condition? It’s time to pause and call the primary care physician, or locate another option like Urgent Care if it is available; most emergency room visits in the United States are NOT emergencies and a waste of this emergency resource.

The below conditions are considered true emergencies and if you exhibit these conditions, you SHOULD go to the ER.

Severe Headache. On a pain scale, it’s 10/10 – Headaches like this may come with vomiting, hematemesis and other conditions. If you feel it is the worst headache in your life, then you SHOULD go to the ER.
Exacerbation of a Chronic Condition: when a previously diagnosed condition becomes worse, or new symptoms arise. A person with chronic fibromyalgia who develops severe spasms and excruciating pain should go to the ER. A person with increasing numbness in their extremities while undergoing chemotherapy should go the ER. A person who had a mild allergic reaction to a food they ingested now develops increased swelling of the face and arms SHOULD go to the ER.
Severe Medication Side Effects such as shortness of breath, chest pain, loss of vision, hearing and any other side effect that results in bodily dysfunction or damage. A person takes a medication prescribed by their doctor and as their doctor indicated, they experienced one of the side effects which is very severe: chest pain. They SHOULD go to the ER for a side effect that suddenly develops and is severe.
Asthma Attack, Difficulty of Breathing, Shortness of breath. A person unable to breath is in grave danger of losing consciousness – if they are on the road, this can be doubly dangerous. This person SHOULD go to the ER.
Chest pain, pain in left arm or jaw, sudden weakness or dizziness lasting longer than two minutes. May indicate a heart attack or loss of consciousness.

Go to Part 2 of the Series: Reasons to Go to the ER

Photo by Tony Webber (CC)

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