ER: the “E” stands for Emergency

Maybe the most famous of all medical departments, helped of course by the many fiction and reality TV shows, the beloved and hated Emergency Department. Let me say it again, Emergency Department.

Unfortunately for the majority of users, it has turned into more of a Convenience Department. Drive-through medicine.

I couldn’t see my family doctor because I don’t get off work until late

Fair enough, people work, and you need to work in order to make a living. But if your reason to come in to the Emergency Department was not urgent or debilitating enough to prevent you from going to work, maybe you should take a moment and reflect if it is truly an emergency still. In other words, you’ve waited through an entire work shift, perhaps this can still wait to see your family doctor or a walk-in clinic?

I need my prescriptions refilled

Sometimes in exceptional circumstances, I agree, this may be an emergency. Though 99 out of 100 times it usually isn’t. When it comes to health care responsibility, you are responsible at the top of the list. This means you need to realized when your pills are running low, or if you don’t have any more repeats. Your family doctor, or the original prescriber of your medications knows best why you’re on a particular treatment. Some medications require periodic follow-up to ensure they’re a) working, b) giving you more benefit than adverse effect, and c) still required. Seeing someone new may be more convenient, but sometimes safety may be compromised.

I need my pain pills

I suppose this does feel like an emergency, and sometimes it is, however, please refer to the above explanation. Safety may sometimes be at risk. Furthermore, most Emergency Departments or walk-in clinics won’t prescribe or refill opioid medications (ie: narcotics). Why? They shouldn’t. When properly being prescribed an opioid medication, such as codeine, oxycodone, morphine, hydromorphone, and fentanyl, there should only be one prescriber. These are controlled substances that the government monitors to prevent abuse and misuse. Multiple prescribers can sometimes red flag the user as well as the prescriber. Even going to multiple pharmacies to fill controlled substances can raise red flags. If the pain medication is for legitimate reasons, don’t risk being cut off from a necessary source of pain relief by drug-seeking.

But I don’t have a family doctor

Then get one. Sometimes easier said than done, but there are many resources out there to assist in finding one. For instance, provinces often have means to match people to doctors accepting patients, such as Health Care Connect in Ontario. Get yourself on a waiting list. Remember, you’re still responsible for your health!

I don’t need a family doctor, I never get sick

Obviously you’re right, and you being in the Emergency Department clearly supports that. Just because you have a family doctor doesn’t mean you need to see them every month or even every year (though it would be recommended). The point is that you have one to go to in the event you have a non-emergent issue, such as a cold, cough, sore knee, or feel depressed. Unless of course you feel you might harm yourself or someone else – that is a true emergency.

I’ve had this issue for (weeks, months)

Once again, hearing a story like this is a clear contradiction to the term Emergency. If your shoulder has been sore for 3 weeks, why did you pick today to come in? I often hear replies that border the Convenience Department analogy. Your family doctor is a very capable professional able to perform many diagnostic investigations. If something is not right, and you’re feeling off, and it’s not going away for days, or weeks, or months,it would be wise to see the health care professional most familiar with you first. And as previously mentioned; if the issue is something that hasn’t disabled you or greatly altered you today, or yesterday, or the last few weeks/months, it probably isn’t an emergency.

Why does it take so long to be seen?

Because too many people come to the Emergency Department for non-emergencies. Which reminds me of a great posting I once saw: when you’re in the waiting room, bored, and impatient, waiting to be seen, be thankful you’re not the person that’s just been rushed in, ahead of you.

Bottom line is the Emergency Department, in an ideal setting, is for emergencies. Your family doctor, their after hours clinic, or a community walk-in clinic is more than capable of handling non-emergent issues. And if by chance you happened to go to one and your situation is found to be an emergency, they’re excellent at making contact with an Emergency Department to expedite your work-up and treatment.

On a different note, and one that we should all be aware about, is health economics. Our taxes are high to support our social health care system. Health care costs a lot of money that we don’t have. If you go to the Emergency Department for a cough, or something that’s been lingering for weeks or months, you’re costing the health care system over 1000% more (yes, there are 3 zeros) than having gone to your family doctor or a walk-in clinic. Makes you question why we can’t offer many services on the health care dollar, eh?


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