It has become an all-too familiar scenario: a patient shows up at the local hospital ER with non-life threatening injury or sickness, waits to see a doctor, and ultimately leaves before being treated or seen.
Unfortunately, early emergency room exits have become a growing trend across the country, and experts say the blame lies with increasingly overcrowded ERs.
In California alone, nearly 352,000 ER visits in 2017 ended when patients left before their medical care was complete – a 57% increase from 2012, according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. An additional 322,000 exited before even seeing a doctor.
“Most patients are sick but not critically ill,” said Dr. Steven Polevoi, medical director of the emergency department at UCSF Hellen Diller Medical Center at Parnassus Heights. “Emergency care doesn’t equal fast care all of the time.”
But the risks are obvious. While some patients might be comfortable taking their chances without immediate medical attention, many are taking chances with their lives. Or, as Polevoi puts it more starkly: “Deliberately putting themselves at more risk for morbidity and even mortality.”
In 2017, California’s median ER wait time for patients seeking admission clocked in at 336 minutes – that’s more than 5 ½ hours, up 15 minutes from 2012. While California wait times remain higher than the national average, the trend across the country continues to grow, and a lot of healthcare providers are seeking answers to stem the tide.
A growing trend that administrators are looking closely at is the rise of urgent care facilities – satellite offices often affiliated with a regional hospital that can provide treatment for ailments that are not life-threatening, but still require the talents of a trained medical practitioner.
The idea isn’t new, but it is growing in popularity. Recent research shows visits to such clinics increased 119% between 2008 and 2015.
Among the many benefits of urgent care facilities are shorter wait times, lower cost and better one-on-one attention from a professional. According to one study, the average low-severity ER visit in 2015 cost $422 out-of-pocket, compared to just $66 on average at urgent care centers.
If you think you are suffering from a serious or life-threatening illness or injury, the ER is still the place to go, without question, and a call to 911 may be in order. But for minor ailments, you might want to find out ahead where the nearest urgent care clinic or satellite treatment facility is located, to save yourself some time and headache.
You’ll be shortening the line over at the local ER as well.