When to go, not to go the emergency room

Posted at 4:58 AM, May 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-21 05:58:42-04

Knowing when a condition is serious enough to warrant a visit to a hospital emergency room is vital information.

Assuming that an emergency room is your best option, there are many things you can do to make the visit more efficient.

The emergency room is an important revenue source for hospitals, but isn’t the best option for minor complaints like sinus infections, rashes or ankle sprains.

But never hesitate to make that 911 call for any life-threatening medical problems.

"Anything that is cardiac related, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, something related to a heart attack. Also if you are experiencing signs of a stroke, such as a severe headache, nausea, facial drooping or slurred speech, as well as any type of major trauma; someone involved in a motor vehicle accident, assault with a weapon involved, any type of injuries that cause bleeding, lacerations, you want to get evaluated for those," said C.C.F.D. Captain Marco Vasquez.

Paramedics and emergency medical technicians say a substantial number of emergency calls aren’t emergencies at all and are best handled in a doctor’s office.

 "Most adults have a pretty good understanding of when they feel something is wrong. If you feel something is a minor incident, and you have a primary care physician, I would recommend contacting them first," said Vasquez.

Yes, it’s a quick transportation to get to the emergency room, but it doesn’t mean you will get seen any quicker.

"Once you get in the emergency department, you need to know that depending on the level of acuity that you have, you will be seen quicker versus waiting until the other major emergencies are taken care of," said Corpus Christi Medical Center Emergency Director Dr. Juan Ramirez. 

We understand that most visits to the emergency department aren’t planned, however, it is a good idea to be prepared.

"I strongly recommend as a habit, if you take any type of medications or have medical issues always keep a list of the diseases that you have on paper, all the allergies, and all the medication that you take. Whenever you come to the emergency department and don’t have that list, bring the bag of medications. That will be a tremendous help for us, and we will expedite your time and process to be done quicker, " said Dr. Ramirez. 

Here is also something to remember the next time you call for an ambulance, you will be charged and that cost will be anywhere from $800-$1,386, for a medical call with transport, and up to $150 for without transport.

Even doctors agree the E.R. – an important revenue source for hospitals – isn’t the best option for minor complaints like sinus infections, rashes or ankle sprains. They say it’s better in those cases to see a family doctor who knows a person’s medical history.

The most important fact every E.R. visitor should know is that true medical emergencies, patients with a potentially life-threatening problem like a heart attack, stroke, respiratory distress or uncontrolled bleeding – take precedence over a broken bone, headache or stomach pain.

When to go to the ER as an adult

The decision to go to the ER becomes easier as an adult, because you are the one afflicted and understand the seriousness of the situation.

Go to the ER if:

  • Signs of a stroke, which include:
    • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
    • Sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye
    • Loss of speech, or trouble talking or understanding speech
    • Sudden, severe headaches with no known cause
    • Unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness, or sudden falls, especially when paired with other stroke symptoms
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Signs of a heart attack lasting two minutes or more including:
    • Pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest
    • Sudden dimness or loss of vision, tightness, burning, or aching under the breastbone
    • Chest pain with lightheadedness
  • Poisoning – Call your local poison control center first and ask for immediate home treatment advice. Certain poisons should be vomited, others should be diluted with water.
  • Drowsiness, unexplained stupor, or disorientation
  • Bleeding that does not stop after ten min of direct pressure
  • Sudden and severe pain
  • A major injury, such as a head trauma
  • A severe reaction to an insect bite/sting
  • Severe or persistent vomiting.
  • Homicidal or suicidal feelings

What to Bring to the Emergency Department

We understand that most visits to the emergency department aren’t planned in advance. However, if you are able, it is helpful to bring the following with you:

  • Photo ID
  • Health insurance information (card)
  • List of prescription medications and dosages
  • List of medications to which you are allergic
  • List of questions you and your family may have
  • Recent test results related to your condition
  • Contact information for your regular medical providers

When not to call 911

Abuse of ambulance services is high and the misuse of ambulances places stress on services, which may jeopardize patient care.

All of these scenarios may require medical advice or help, ranging from first aid at home to an urgent emergency department visit, but none requires ambulance attendance:

  • Man with chronic back pain who has run out of painkillers
  • Drunk man being sick (but not unconscious)
  • 3-year-old with a piece of Lego stuck in his nose
  • Single episode of blood in the urine
  • Toddler with a bruise on his head
  • Knife cut on the palm of the hand that is not bleeding heavily

Bottom line is…if it is a medical emergency, and you need help, call 9-11. Do not drive yourself. If not, call your physician and get medical advice.