When you face a medical emergency, there may be little time to waste in deciding what to do. An emergency medical service (EMS) is an option when a primary care physician can’t see you right away and your situation warrants treatment not provided by an urgent care clinic. For example, if you have chest pains, breathing problems, or a severe wound, any delay in care could put your life in danger. However, some opt not to seek 24-hour emergency care.
According to a Centers for Disease Control survey, the median wait time at emergency departments was 30 minutes in 2010-2011, and the median time people waited for treatment was a little over 90 minutes.1 In 2014, there were about 141.4 million emergency center visits.2 Overcrowding is, therefore, a problem in many facilities. Here are some other reasons for long ER wait times:
- Patients with urgent, life-threatening symptoms are seen first.
- The process of testing, examining results, and diagnosing patients takes
- A limited number of beds for patients being diagnosed and/or treated are available.
- The availability of medical specialists, such as cardiologists and pulmonologists, is limited.
- Sudden events, such as car crashes, disease outbreaks, and natural disasters, come up and take precedence.
What Are Emergency Health Services?
Whether separate or part of a hospital, an EMS is equipped to provide acute care for patients with serious illnesses or injuries. It typically includes ambulance transport. Various medical professionals are present, from nurse practitioners to doctors in specialized areas of medicine. Often, hospital services are immediately available, including imaging and lab services, trauma/injury treatment, and surgical facilities.
A variety of services and systems are integrated with EMS, including emergency transport services connected to the 9-1-1 system, police and fire services, private ambulance services, voluntary organizations, hospital-based organizations, and emergency service agencies at airports and large universities. These are multi-functional units that compensate for limited resources or budgets in the community.
ER vs. Urgent Care/Primary Care Provider
Whether to go to a 24-hour medical clinic or not is sometimes a decision that must be made. The ER has all the resources available, but, if your condition is not considered high-priority, the wait time will be longer. Urgent care is fine if you have a cold, an earache, an eye infection, or a minor sprain, or even require stitches. According to an Urgent Care Association of America study in 2012, 88.6% of patients were served within an hour at the nation’s more than 9,000 urgent care centers.3
If symptoms come on gradually, urgent care is a better option. You may already know the diagnosis or have a sore throat, rash, or urinary tract infection. Urgent care is not a substitute for a visit to your regular doctor, but available openings are often more flexible. Physicians usually see patients by appointment. Even if you can get a same-day appointment, it’s likely you’ll need to wait. While your doctor knows your medical history, the symptoms may be too tough to bear to spend waiting in the office. Many times urgent care can help, but the following five reasons indicate you should seek emergency care immediately.
Reasons to Go to the ER
A Scripps infographic provides a quick rundown of when to choose the ER vs. urgent care (should dire circumstances demand fast decision-making), but not all the reasons to choose emergency health services involve the symptoms. We’ve put some of the leading signs of potential life-threatening emergencies at the top and listed some other benefits of EMS, as well.
The most common reasons people visit the ER include stomach and abdominal pain and chest pain.4 Granted, it’s not an emergency every time something hurts, but severe discomfort can mean many things. The reasons to go to the ER for pain include:
Chest pain: If it persists for more than a few minutes, there’s reason for concern. Chest pain that radiates to the arms, especially the left arm or jaw is symptomatic of a heart attack. Shortness of breath, sweating, or vomiting may occur as well. Nearly 6.9 million ER visits in 2014 were by people seeking treatment for chest pain or related symptoms.5
Stomach/abdominal pain: Severe pain in the abdomen can indicate a gallbladder infection, intestinal blockage, appendicitis, hernia complications, or gynecological conditions. About 11.1 million emergency department visits were due to abdominal pain, cramps, and spasms in the U.S., in 2014.6 Also, if the pain is severe or begins halfway down your back, you should seek emergency treatment.
Severe back pain: A backache isn’t usually a cause for alarm, but emergency medical attention should be sought if it’s severe and/or accompanied by progressive leg weakness, loss of bowel or bladder control, acute/severe stomach pain, loss of appetite, fever, or unexplained weight loss. If back pain occurs suddenly without trauma or associated movement, potential causes include infection, cancer, nerve sac compression (cauda equina syndrome), or an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
Head pain: A severe headache may not be a migraine, cluster, or sinus headache if you also have a fever, trouble walking, or neurological symptoms such as weakness, blurred vision, numbing sensations, or slurred speech. Sudden onset of pain is also a reason to visit a 24-hour emergency room. Medical teams will check for evidence of stroke and other serious conditions.
An emergency department or emergency trauma center is equipped to handle many things. Deep wounds that don’t stop bleeding require immediate treatment, and doctors can stitch you up while using medical techniques to stop the bleeding. They’ll also clean up the wound and prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection while providing instructions on how to care for the wound as it heals.
Broken bones require immediate treatment, as well, especially if they involve compound fractures or bone fragments penetrating the skin. A broken limb with bruising, numbness, or loss of function is a reason to visit an emergency trauma center. Joint dislocations require immediate treatment, as nearby structures may have sustained damage. Also, visit the ER if you fall, are injured, and/or take blood thinning medication.
Aside from pain and injury, other reasons to visit the ER include:
- Loss of consciousness following a head injury.
- Fainting, which can occur due to heart problems, drops in blood pressure, or neurological issues.
- Sudden onset of clumsiness or loss of balance.
- Severe diarrhea/vomiting, which can cause dehydration and be symptomatic of serious illnesses or conditions.
- Severe cold/flu symptoms or a high fever accompanied by a rash.
- A serious burn, causing major damage to the skin and/or underlying structures.
- Seizures if you have not previously been diagnosed with epilepsy.
- High-Quality Medical Care
Emergency health services and trauma facilities are where you’ll find some of the highest quality medical care. You’ll encounter medical professionals with various EMS certifications. These include Emergency Medical Responders who are trained to provide life-saving care such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). An Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) can perform immediate care such as defibrillation, oxygen administration, and spinal stabilization.
Under updated guidelines from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, the Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT) certification was created. An AEMT can begin intravenous treatments, perform advanced airway procedures, and administer medications. Paramedics have a range of medical training; in most states, they have the highest licensure status of any provider of prehospital medical care.
You’ll also encounter people with not just Basic Life Support training, which consists of airway, breathing, and circulation care, but also Advance Life Support. One who is trained in this area can perform cardiac monitoring, cardiac defibrillation, transcutaneous pacing, intravenous cannulation (IV), and surgical cricothyrotomy (incision to open a patient’s airway in cases of airway obstruction, swelling, or massive trauma). They can deliver IV medications or treat tension pneumothorax (air in the chest cavity) by performing needle decompression.
In an emergency medical situation, you can always dial 9-1-1, and an ambulance from a nearby trauma or emergency center will be dispatched to your location. Over 4.2 million emergency department visits in 2014 followed an ambulance trip.7 Many emergency vehicles have medical equipment and medications stowed on board, so paramedics can start treating you right away.
Emergency departments are, therefore, accessible, as are the physicians and other medical professionals there to diagnose and treat patients. Life-saving treatment can begin on the way to the hospital. Once you are there, your condition will be assessed via physical examinations, heart monitoring equipment, x-rays, CT scans, or ultrasound. Visiting the emergency room may be the fastest way to see a cardiologist or pulmonologist or to have a badly broken bone properly set.
As soon as you arrive at an emergency health center, someone will be there to review your case, medical history, and any relevant details. No other type of facility is structured to assess individuals so quickly. That’s why it’s important to have a list of current medications, allergies, documented medical conditions, and the names/numbers of your doctors and specialists handy. Also, be sure you have:
- Insurance cards and information
- Photo identification
- Emergency contacts
- Glasses and hearing aids
- Pen and paper, to write down diagnoses, treatments, and steps to care.
- Legal documentation, including Do Not Resuscitate orders, health care proxies, and power of attorney
The more prepared you are, the fewer hurdles there will be in receiving care and starting treatment at an emergency, trauma, or pain center.
Exceptional Emergency Center vs. Other Providers
The emergency room is the place to go during a serious medical crisis. However, if you’re keen on avoiding long wait times, come to Exceptional Emergency Center. Our fully staffed and equipped emergency and Texas Injury Center in Harlingen, TX differs from conventional ERs in that the environment is calm and controlled while patients are treated within a few minutes of arrival.
We can also keep patients under observation for up to 23 hours. Agreements with local healthcare providers enable us to transfer patients to local hospitals if needed. Should more specialized care or surgery be necessary, we make all the arrangements and choose/recommend a hospital best suited for the patients based on their medical condition.
For South Texas emergency care, Harlingen, TX is the place to go. In addition to our Harlingen medical center emergency room, we have facilities in East Chase (Fort Worth), Livingston, and Sachse, Texas. A facility in Brownsville is scheduled to open by summer 2018.
Drop us a message online or visit one of our facilities closest to you if you are or a loved one is experiencing signs of a medical emergency. Call our ER hotlines right away at:
East Chase: 817-566-0285
Dow Emergency – Livingston: 936-327-7000
Excellence ER – Sachse: 469-202-8658