Answering Your Emergency Care Questions

While the vast majority of us are not so-called ‘super users’ of hospital emergency rooms, most of us are likely to make a trip – or trips – to the ER for ourselves or a loved one at some point.

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Dr. Wayne Bond Lau

Recently Jefferson emergency medicine physician Wayne Bond Lau, MD, joined a national Tweet Chat hosted by ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Richard Besser, MD, discussing emergency medicine and providing insights that can help you navigate a trip to the ER.

Below are some of the questions raised during that Tweet Chat and Dr. Lau’s answers. Follow Dr. Lau on on Twitter @WBLMD.

How common are ER visits?

Dr. Lau: The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) reports an increase in 2013 to 136 million ER visits from 129 million in 2012.

What are the main reasons people go to the ER?

Dr. Lau: The most common reasons for ER visits are chest pain, abdominal pain and trauma. For children, the most common reasons are fever and coughing or sneezing.

Many complain about waiting times in the ER. What are the average wait times and why are wait times so long?

Dr. Lau: Wait times vary based on severity. Codes – medical and surgical – with life threatening issues are seen first. It is hard to wait in the ER. But remember we triage each patient to ensure life-threatening situations are seen first and everyone is seen ASAP.

How do you know if you are sick enough that you should go to the ER rather than wait to see your doctor?

Dr. Lau: The major thing to consider is the acuity of and timing/onset of the symptoms. Pain for months verses sudden chest or other pain. Chest pain, passing, out or if you suddenly can’t speak or move your arms or leg, are reasons to get to the ER. Certainly trauma, which includes injuries in the home and at work as well as auto accidents and penetrating injuries, requires emergency care. It’s a good idea to identify the signs of stroke ( remember F.A.S.T.) and learn the signs of a heart attack.

The affordable care act gives millions of more people health insurance. Will this increase or decrease ER visits?

Dr. Lau: In Massachusetts when they passed a similar health law ER visits went up 4 percent. Early trends nationally have been up. Theoretically it should reduce the number of patients who go to the ER, but problem is there are not enough primary care physicians, so we may see an increase in ER visits until we increase the number of primary care physicians.

What tips do you have to help someone have a successful ER visit?

Dr. Lau: Know your meds and existing medical conditions. Be patient, be understanding and have healthy, realistic expectations.

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