Question of the Week

October 17, 2005


Every year millions of people visit emergency departments in the United States.

"Visits to the nation‚s emergency departments (EDs) reached a record high of nearly 114 million in 2003, but the number of EDs decreased by 12 percent from 1993 to 2003, according to a new report released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ... The average waiting time to see a physician was 46.5 minutes, the same as it was in 2000. The wait time was unchanged despite increased visits. ... On average, patients spent 3.2 hours in the ED, which includes time with the physician as well as other clinical services."

Some numbers to consider:

"Emergency Department Visits (Data are for U.S. for 2003)
    - Number of visits: 113.9 million
    - Number of injury-related visits: 40.2 million
    - Number of illness-related visits: 74 million
    - Number of visits per 100 persons: 38.9"

Of those 113.9 million visits, 17,731,000 were made by teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24. This accounts for an average of 44.2 visits per 100 people in this age range.

Of the 17.7 million teens and young adults who were seen in emergency rooms, 11.9 percent were considered "Emergent," or "A visit in which the patient should be seen in less than 15 minutes;" 34.6 percent were considered, "Urgent, " or "A visit in which the patient should be seen within 15 - 60 minutes;" 22.0 percent were considered "Semiurgent," or "A visit in which the patient should be seen within 61 - 120 minutes;" and 15.1 percent were considered "Nonurgent," or "A visit in which the patient should be seen within 121 minutes - 24 hours."

Emergencies are not common. Many injuries and illnesses (such as cuts and colds) can be taken care of safely and properly at home.

"Minor cuts and scrapes usually don't require a trip to the emergency room. Yet proper care is essential to avoid infection or other complications."
Mayo Clinic

In some cases, it can be more difficult to determine if professional medical care is needed.

"The specific cause of chest pain is often difficult to interpret. Causes of the pain can vary from minor problems, such as indigestion or stress, to serious medical emergencies, such as a heart attack or pulmonary embolism. As with other sudden, unexplained pain, chest pain may be a signal for you to get medical help. ..."
Mayo Clinic

More information about these and many other conditions (including general guidelines about when to seek help) can be found at:

"Medical emergencies don't occur every day. But when they do, you should have the information you need to deal with these situations. ..."
Mayo Clinic

While people shouldn't to be running to the emergency room for every little scrape, they don't want to ignore serious medical conditions that may need immediate help from a medical professional, either. In a true emergency, there is no time to look things up online and see if you need to get to an emergency room immediately. Life or limb saving time could be lost.

"If you're ever in doubt and no one is around to ask, it's better to call 911 and let the operator decide if it's a real emergency than to take the chance that someone who needs help doesn't get it quickly."

Questions of the Week:
What options are available to people who have an illness or injury with which they need assistance when they are unable to reach their doctors? How do these options differ for those who do not have a regular doctor or access to medical insurance? If you or someone you know is sick or injured, how can you determine whether or not the situation is a medical emergency? What can you do if you think it is an emergency, and someone you are with (or the person in who needs help) thinks otherwise?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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