Emergency Department Access
It is important for patients to seek and receive care in the most appropriate, cost efficient setting possible, but the question of access is not that simple. There is a lack of primary care in the United States, especially for the uninsured, leaving hospital emergency departments as their only option for care. Additionally, it is often difficult to judge whether or not you are having an actual emergency until after the diagnosis. (ie. Chest pain that turns out to be heartburn)
It is true that hospitals emergency departments represent one of the highest cost settings for patients to receive care. Emergency department costs are high due in part to the expertise of the staff and the cost of the technology required.
Hospitals are required by a federal law called EMTALA to care for any patient that presents to the emergency department. WakeMed has proposed an EMTALA reform to congress that would enable emergency department providers to help patients who are not experiencing a true emergency receive care in a more appropriate setting like a community health clinic or urgent care. The result would be lower costs and improved care for patients.
Regardless of reform, it is important for patients to use their best judgment and seek care in the most appropriate setting available, accessing emergency department resources only in the event of a true emergency. To help guide patients, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) offers a list of warning signs that indicate a medical emergency.