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When is an Emergency not an Emergency?

by Anu Sarma on November 28, 2013 Comments Off on When is an Emergency not an Emergency?

When does emergency treatment end up costing you more than it should? When you end up at the ER for all the wrong reasons. A recent piece in the ITIJ details how tourists in the US all too often rush to the emergency room (ER) for injuries and sickness due to a mistaken belief that it is the best place to receive timely medical treatment. I’ve paid a visit to the ER in California with a screaming two-year-old because it was the only place I knew where to go. But it turns out an ER may not be the best, or the cheapest, place to be in these situations. Here’s a guide to finding the best emergency treatment centers for your needs.

medical assistance

ER may not be the best option
The healthcare system in the US is the most expansive, and most complex, out of all the developed nations and visitors to America are often overwhelmed by the prospect of navigating this complicated system. For example, there are over 6,000 hospitals and 600,000 doctors in the country. Where should you go first with a sick child, or a possibly broken toe?

The Emergency Room is, as the name suggests, for urgent emergency and life threatening cases only. The ER should be reserved for the treatment of urgent and serious conditions such as heart attack, stroke, unconsciousness, or other trauma cases. Yet many tourists go to the ER with non-urgent problems because they don’t know where else to turn up. For example, flu symptoms, sprains and strains, blisters and minor burns would be better treated elsewhere.

But where is “elsewhere”? The ER is possibly the only facility that everyone – tourist and locals alike – is aware of. But other medical facilities, such as physicians’ offices, retail clinics and urgent care centers, are more appropriate for non-emergency cases.

Alternative emergency treatment centers
Urgent care centers, of which there are over 8,000 in the US, treat serious health conditions when you need attention quickly. Treated conditions include stomach viruses, fractures and sprains, cuts, flu symptoms, and fevers. Most urgent care centers accept major insurance cover and you don’t need to make an appointment. Just turn up, like you would at the ER. The difference is the treatment is much less expensive than in the ER and the staff are not likely to complain if you come in with a non life-threatening injury or illness. You will also wait for a shorter amount of time.

Retail health clinics are another option for tourists with medical concerns. These are also known as convenient care clinics and are located in shopping malls, pharmacies, and stores. These clinics have nurse practitioners and doctors’ assistants and you can go to these clinics for minor and non-urgent conditions and injuries like skin conditions, earache, sore throat, and minor infections. You will be in and out of these clinics quickly, and won’t have to endure the hours of waiting in an uncomfortable ER waiting room.

Saving money and time
These alternatives offer distinct advantages over a trip to the ER. According to UnitedHealthcare the average total cost of a trip to the Emergency Room in 2010 was almost $1,300. In contrast, a trip to the urgent care facility, doctor’s office, and retail health clinic cost $175, $105, and $73, respectively. As well as saving you money on the cost of healthcare, you will probably not have to wait as long as in the ER – this is important when you consider the levels of stress an illness or injury bring. Data from the American College of Emergency Physicians shows ER patients waited an average of four hours. On the other hand, 80 per cent of all visits to urgent care clinics were finalized within one hour or less, according to the Urgent Care Association of America.

Who wants to spend hours, and thousands of dollars, on a night in the ER when you could be effectively treated elsewhere? Remember, you have choice when you visit the US and need to be seen by a medical professional. Use that choice wisely.

Click here for information on health insurance in the USA

Anu SarmaWhen is an Emergency not an Emergency?