When I’m not working as a writer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, I serve as a patient advocate in one of the nation’s busiest emergency rooms. Among my roles is to explain to frustrated patients why it sometimes takes so long to see a doctor. Typically, this question comes from patients with minor issues – serious to them, of course – but in the bigger picture that includes rooftop falls, motor vehicle accidents, drug overdoses and heart attacks – minor in the sense of prioritizing patients in a Level 1 trauma center. On our busiest days (like the height of flu season), the wait could be from two to five hours for those seeking care for such things as sprained ankles, headaches, gastrointestinal issues and itchy rashes. After six years, I’m still surprised by the misconceptions people have about ERs. Two of the most common are:
- “I was here first, so I should be seen before anybody else.”
Contrary to popular belief, emergency rooms don’t operate on a first-come, first-served basis. No matter where you are in line, a severed limb is more urgent than a swollen toe; difficulty breathing will be seen before coughing and sneezing; profuse bleeding will surpass stomach cramps.
- “I had no other option at this hour.”
Often, there are other options available, including the many after-hours clinics in the area, some on the same campuses as busy emergency rooms. Many people don’t realize the wait time will be much shorter and they’ll incur less out-of-pocket costs by using these clinics. Since working as both a health care communications specialist and a hospital patient advocate, I see first-hand the importance of raising awareness and applauding the work of after-hours clinics, urgent care centers and 24-hour nurse lines. Until people with health concerns – emergent or not – know they have other viable options for health care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they’ll continue to frequent emergency rooms for primary care. If you feel your situation requires emergency care, please go to the nearest emergency room. No one is turned away. However, if you question the urgency of your symptoms, take a few minutes to research your options. It may save you time, money and hassle. Laura Ortiz is a writer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.