New Poll Reveals Patients Don’t Always Choose the Right Medical Treatment

With the winter holiday season in full swing, hospital emergency rooms often experience an influx of patients with seasonal injuries from decking the halls. The surge in holiday-related injuries has sparked concern among ER physicians who feel patients may not be clear in regards to when and where to seek the appropriate medical treatment.

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) recently conducted a poll which revealed an overwhelming 71% of participating ER physicians claimed to have treated patients in the emergency department who first sought medical attention at an urgent care clinic.

Also, 90% of ER physicians said one of the main reasons patients are referred to the emergency room is because the patients’ medical conditions or injuries require a more advanced level of medical care than what can be provided in an urgent care setting.

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just under half (48%) of all adult ER patients were who were not sick enough to be admitted to the hospital sought treatment at the ER because their physicians’ offices were closed.

The confusion seems ironic, given the emphasis placed on urgent care centers as means of preventing a emergency department visits, according to Michael Gerardi, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP. “Many people may feel they are saving time or money by going first to urgent care, but in instances of serious illness, that loss of time can be dangerous. Urgent care centers are great options for common medical problems, but they are not substitutes for emergency care,” said Dr. Gerardi.

The poll also revealed that more than half (54%) of ER physicians felt urgent care centers were marketing themselves as alternatives to the emergency room, a health message which Dr. Gerardi feels is dangerous.

“Urgent care centers don’t have the same equipment and staffing as an emergency department,” said Dr. Gerardi. “They treat minor illnesses and injuries, such as sprains and minor cuts requiring stitches. They don’t have the capabilities that emergency departments do for complex diagnoses and treatments.”

Generally, urgent care services are best suited for conditions that could otherwise be treated at a primary care physician’s office. However, medical emergencies such as chest pain, shortness of breath, loss of motor skills, and sudden and severe pain should always be assessed at the emergency room.

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