Ask yourself this question: what are emergency rooms or emergency departments for?
The answer is embedded in the name of the phrase “emergency room” – they’re obviously for emergencies and highly urgent care, right?
Wrong, says roughly one-third of Americans.
They’re just single departments in hospitals – what’s the big deal?
Believe it or not, one of the most substantial problems across the entirety of modern medicinal practice here in the United States is the misuse of hospitals’ emergency departments for health problems that couldn’t at all be considered – not even in the slightest – an emergency.
According to a survey conducted by a mash-up of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, National Public Radio, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, about 30 percent of United States residents treat hospitals’ emergency rooms as their go-to medical providers.
Most emergency departments don’t have a full fleet of physicians on duty to tend to patients. Rather, they typically only have one doctor on the floor at a time unless the area the hospital is located in is particularly large.
Imagine this scenario – someone who is experiencing a heart attack gets taken to their local emergency room by a loved one. Unbeknownst to them, the emergency department that they’re about to visit currently has a handful of people being seen by the ER’s physician on staff.
When they check in with the emergency department’s receptionist, she informs them there’s currently a wait, despite the fact that the aforementioned patient is going through a heart attack, for goodness’ sake.
What if that person who just had experienced a heart attack died waiting for assistance? Since the physician and his or her staff are busy treating the walk-in patient who didn’t have anything that even remotely resembled a condition that required to be treated with urgency.
Dr. Eric Forsthoefel is an emergency department physician who practices in the state of Florida. Believe it or not, Dr. Forsthoefel has experienced literally hundreds upon hundreds of people leisurely walk in through the doors of the emergency department he works at; all of those slow walkers – all of those people that seem to be taking their sweet time – obviously don’t have medical problems that necessitate being seen immediately by a trained emergency room physician.
Why do people visit emergency rooms instead of “normal” doctors’ offices?
Dr. Eric Forsthoefel shares that the United States has a federal law that forces emergency departments to see any and all patients that come through their doors. Dr. Forsthoefel simply can’t turn down patients who present with non-emergency issues – he legally must see them!
People are incentivized to visit EDs because they don’t have any insurance or cash to cover appointments at a non-emergency medical care provider. Further, low-income individuals across the United States actually like the convenience of emergency rooms.