It’s a time-honored tradition.
Couples entering marriage take vows to stick by their spouse, “for richer or poorer,” and, “in sickness and in health.” While not every married couple will experience post-nuptial times of poverty or wealth, every family is certain to face health challenges during a marriage.
Hopefully, those challenges will be relatively minor and can be treated at home or in a doctor’s office. But in the event of something possibly more serious, it’s important to understand when to go to and what to expect at a hospital Emergency Department (ED).
THE RIGHT VENUE
Should a medical issue that needs care by a professional arise, the first step is determining whether it needs to be addressed in a hospital ED or another care setting. A trip to the ED or call to 911 is appropriate for any potentially life- threatening condition and these symptoms:
» chest pain
» sudden loss of balance, vision change, facial droop, arm or leg weakness
» difficulty breathing
» severe stomach pain
» coughing/vomiting blood
» deep cuts/wounds
» severe burns
» severe head injury
» poisoning, overdoses and suicidal behavior
“We’re always willing to treat anyone, and we want to do so as quickly as possible. But serious, life-threatening cases are always going to get priority,” says Todd Aspegren, MD, who serves as medical director of the Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Waxahachie ED.
That may mean a longer wait for certain patients as EDs do not typically operate on a first-come, first-serve basis. It’s part of the reason why symptoms such as allergies, earaches, back pain, flu, sprains, and minor cuts and burns should usually be seen in other care settings such as the doctor’s office or walk-in clinic if possible.
WHY THE WAIT?
The waiting room of hospital EDs may not always be full. However, that doesn’t mean the ED is not busy. Some EDs–like Baylor Scott & White – Waxahachie have patients wait in treatment rooms if available, rather than in the waiting room. Additionally, the types of patients receiving treatment can impact wait times.
“If we have a critically ill patient, it takes a provider – or multiple providers – a long time because they have to devote all their time to staying with that patient rather than rotating between patients,” Dr. Aspegren explains.
Typically, caregivers rotate between patients in the ED. But serious cases, including those patients who arrive by ambulance, often demand more time from more providers. This can cause a bottleneck in the care process, creating delays for patients with less serious medical issues. While it may be frustrating for patients who must wait, the dedicated attention and resources are probably what most people would expect from an ED team if it was their spouse or loved one facing a potentially life-threatening medical issue.
Dr. Aspegren also notes that the time of day frequently plays a role in ED wait times. “From 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. is an extremely busy time, where we often see surges of patients all checking in at once.”
All these factors not only explain why wait times in EDs can be long, but underscore the importance of families establishing a relationship with a primary care physician. A primary care physician can both provide regular check-ups and address less serious medi al issues as they arise often without the wait.