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Avoiding Unnecessary Emergency Room Visits

A recent study published in the Journal of Rural Health emphasizes the importance of using health care centers to reduce the numbers of unnecessary patient visits to emergency rooms. It also confirms that using alternative medical facilities reduces health care costs significantly. The ER is easily accessible, open 24 hours and does not turn away patients who do not have health insurance. This may explain why over 100 million Americans make ER visits every year. Non-emergency patients and uninsured patients make it hard to help true emergencies in the ER and raise health care costs for everyone. Without an alternative to the hospital for these individuals, little can be done to solve this growing problem. The use of community health care centers has become an increasingly appealing solution for non-life threatening treatment. Theses centers are set up to work similarly to primary care offices. They are non-profit and are affordable for patients who do not have insurance. They are located throughout the country and are usually in areas where medical facility options are lacking.

How Health Care Centers Work to Resolve ER Overcrowding

A study published by the Journal of Rural Health reviewed hospital visits in rural areas of Georgia where there are no other health care facilities. Hospitals in these areas had a 33 percent influx of uninsured patient visits. “This study offers a clear and compelling picture of what national trends also show— that a large portion of costly ER visits could have been redirected to a health center, where the care is as good as or better than that provided anywhere else, and much more cost effective.” – National Association of Community Health Centers Health care centers have proven successful enough that, in recent years, 20 states have received grants to work in conjunction with Medicaid programs to create affordable medical care alternatives. These grants have also enhanced the quality of care found in centers that were already in place. Hours of operation have been extended and there has been an increase in efforts to spread awareness about health care centers.

Additional Programs Enhance ER Efficiency

In addition to opening and enhancing health care centers, programs aimed at hospital efficiency and cutting costs are being piloted throughout the country. Louisville Metro Emergency Medical Survives has one of particular interest. The goal of this program is to reduce unnecessary ambulance and ER services by diverting non-priority patients to local health centers. Incoming emergency calls are monitored and low-priority calls are flagged. All flagged calls are transferred to a nurse who will discuss other treatment facility options with the patient. The program aims to reduce unnecessary ambulance and ER services while cutting costs. Another study conducted in Washington State focused on patients who frequent ERs due to a chronic condition such as addiction. It found that the implementation of chemical dependency treatment programs for addicts reduced ER visits and costs by 20 percent. Other chronic conditions that are often seen in the ER, but can be treated through non-emergency services include diabetes, hypertension and asthma.

Finding a Community Health Center

Community health centers provide primary care to over one million seniors who are on Medicare. In 1990 the Medicare Federally Qualified Health Centers Program was created. If you have a problem that is not a medical emergency and you can’t get to your primary care doctor, a community health center could be a good option. They are located in most cities and rural areas. To find a health center near you, you can go to the US Department of Health and Human Services Find a Health Center website at

When An ER Visit Is In Order

Understanding what a true medical emergency is and when the ER should be utilized is extremely important. “An emergency is a serious medical condition or symptom (including severe pain) caused by an injury or sickness, or mental illness, which arises suddenly and requires immediate care and treatment to avoid disability or death.” – Sparrow Health System An ER visit is in order if you experience:
  • Symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain lasting more than 2 minutes
  • Symptoms of a stroke, such as numbness or weakness in the arms or legs
  • Extreme shortness of breath
  • Heavy bleeding that continues for over 10 minutes
  • Poisoning
  • Complicated fractures
  • Head or major organ injuries
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Homicidal or suicidal feelings
In these cases do not hesitate to call 911 and get emergency help.