Holiday Injures Encourage ER Physicians to Clear Urgent Care Confusion

Broken armThe holiday season is undoubtedly the busiest and most chaotic time of year for retailers, but it’s also crazy for hospitals.

Christmas and New Year’s are the most wonderful time of year for seasonal injuries. ‘Tis the season for any number of holiday-related injuries, such as falls from ladders while hanging decorations, cuts from glass ornaments, and even food poisoning. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, these kinds of holiday-related afflictions send nearly 250 patients a day to hospital emergency rooms every November and December.

According to a recent poll conducted by the American College of Emergency Room Physicians (ACEP), some emergency room (ER) doctors are concerned that far too many patients are confused about what kind care to seek for their injuries: urgent care or hospital emergency room?

More than 75% of the ER physicians who participated in the online poll were concerned that patients with critical medical conditions may visit an urgent care center that is unable or unequipped to treat them. A full 90% claimed patients are often redirected to a hospital emergency room because their medical condition was more severe than what an urgent care center could treat.

“To be honest, redirecting a patient only happens about 20% of the time. Typically, the issue is chest pain related, which really should be treated in the ER,” says Alison Hare, practice administrator at Doctors Express Englewood. “In regards to how busy things have gotten in the past couple months, we’re seeing everything from normal cold and flu symptoms to holiday injuries.”

Over 2,000 emergency physicians participated in the poll. The poll sheds some light on the trend in healthcare towards greater reliance on urgent care services. The clinics, many operated by retail chains such as Wal-Mart and CVS, continue to rise in popularity with patients wanting to avoid long waits and high doctor or hospital bills.

Healthcare advocates have encouraged the use of urgent care centers as a means of bridging the gap between short-staffed hospital emergency rooms and primary care doctors’ offices, as well as a means of treating non-life threatening yet serious injuries quickly.

Urgent care is best for common, acutely arising medical issues such as sprains and minor cuts. However, they are far from being a substitute for emergency care, ACEP emphasizes. Urgent care centers often lack specific equipment, such as imaging technology or lab testing capability, as well as physicians with experience in emergency medicine, according to the medical society.

Another concern is that urgent care centers may not always have access to a patient’s electronic medical history or file. This is more common in standalone clinics than in those affiliated with larger health networks.

ER physicians are urging patients to err on the side of caution in terms of their health.