Published on June 04, 2014

Find an appropriate alternative to emergency room care

By Janice Early

June 2, 2014

Emergency Department sign with moon

A recent report presented to the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees showed that nearly one-third of the visits to the Lawrence
Memorial Hospital emergency department in 2013 probably didn’t require emergency treatment. Most of these visits were for minor medical problems that could be handled more cost effectively in a doctor’s office or urgent-care setting.

The LMH report presented information from a 2010 New England Healthcare Institute (NEHI) research brief that examined emergency department overuse. NEHI cited some reasons why patients seek care in the emergency department compared to other care settings:

  • Patients have limited access to timely primary care services.

  • The emergency department provides convenient after-hours and weekend care.

  • The emergency department offers patients immediate reassurance about their medical conditions.

  • Primary care providers refer patients to the emergency department.

Hospital emergency departments are set up to focus on severe and life-threatening medical emergencies, not routine health care problems. They have specially trained doctors, nurses, paramedics and other support staff who can recognize, diagnose and treat a wide variety of medical issues, and they have the medical technology and equipment at hand.

Emergency treatment costs significantly more than a doctor visit; an emergency visit for an earache will likely cost hundreds of dollars more than it would at your doctor’s office or walk-in clinic, and you will probably spend a lot more time plus receive care from a doctor who has probably never before seen you. It’s always best to get as much of your care as you can from a healthcare provider who knows and understands you.

The emergency department is our community’s lifeline and should be used prudently for true emergencies rather than convenience. One good question to ask yourself is, “Am I thinking about going to the ER because it’s convenient or because it’s necessary?”

Of course, go to the emergency department immediately or call 911 if you think you are having a medical emergency. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, warning signs of a medical emergency include heart attack and stroke symptoms, not being able to breathe, severe and uncontrolled bleeding, change in mental status, coughing up or vomiting blood, head injury, sudden and severe pain anywhere in the body and a few others.

But if you have the flu or some minor injury or illness, you have options. First, it’s important to your health that you establish a relationship with a primary care provider before you need one. Many primary care practices have extended and walk-in hours, and most practices can work you in if you explain your problem. If you don’t have a primary care provider, visit the LMH website at for a list of area practices and providers. If you don’t have insurance, Health Care Access and Heartland Community Health Center are two options for primary care in Lawrence.

If you’re feeling sick or uncomfortable, before heading to the emergency department call your healthcare provider. If it’s after hours, your office can provide guidance. If you choose to seek care at an urgent care or retail clinic, your primary care provider will want to know about your issue. Lawrence has several options for urgent care if you need it. These types of clinics can be a great option when you can’t see your regular provider or don’t need the level of care of an emergency department.

The best advice to stay out of the ER is to take good care of yourself. Stay healthy by eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, obtaining routine medical care and treating minor illnesses before they become major emergencies. For summertime activities, use common sense. Wear sunscreen, drink plenty of fluids, stretch before physical activities, wear eye and ear protection when mowing, wear a helmet for wheeled sports and always wear your seat belt.

— Janice Early is Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at 

Find an appropriate alternative to emergency room care

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