More than half of the visits to hospital emergency departments nationwide are not emergencies. That’s true also at NorthBay Medical Center and NorthBay VacaValley Hospital Emergency Departments, according to Emergency Physician Caesar Djvaherian, M.D.
Because emergency departments are staffed with physicians and nurses with the advanced training to care for any emergency that comes through their doors, unnecessary emergency care is the most expensive care you can receive—especially if you just have a bad cold or the flu.
While no one plans a visit to the emergency department, everyone can learn the warning signs and symptoms of true emergencies. These include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, fainting, sudden dizziness or weakness, changes in vision or difficulty speaking.
If you’re alarmed by unusually severe symptoms, it’s best to seek immediate care, Dr. Djvaherian advises. In the case of stroke, quick treatment can reverse the damage, but only if treatment is given within the first three hours following the start of symptoms.
Other reasons to visit the emergency room include any sudden or severe pain, uncontrolled bleeding, severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea, coughing or vomiting blood, unusual abdominal pain and suicidal or homicidal feelings.
“I really think it was a matter of everything lining up,” Michael says. “That’s why I believe in a higher power. I’m not done yet.”
When is Pain an Emergency?
If you have been injured and are in pain, or experience a new pain, especially in your head, chest or abdomen, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital emergency department, says Emergency Physician Caesar Djvaherian, M.D. Quick action when you suspect a heart attack or stroke will give you the best chance of making a good recovery.
However, if you have chronic pain, or have braved a pain for two weeks or longer, your best course of action is to visit your own physician. “The Emergency Department doesn’t have a comprehensive way to treat chronic pain,” Dr. Djvaherian says.
Many health plans have an advice nurse available by phone for consultations. An advice nurse may be able to determine whether heading to the Emergency Department is appropriate for your pain.
Treating Children in the ER
If you think your child is having a medical emergency, always seek immediate medical attention. Children may display different symptoms than adults, and what is mild for an adult could be serious for a child. And, young children may not be able to communicate how they feel, which means adults must interpret their condition.
“Often parents just need reassurance that their child is OK,” says Dr. Djvaherian. “We will evaluate the child and advise the parents on any medical care that is needed.”
Children with serious illness or injury are stabilized and transferred to hospitals that specialize in childhood medical care. These include Oakland Children’s Hospital and the UC Davis Children’s Hospital in Sacramento.
OK, Call an Ambulance
Why should you call an ambulance instead of driving to the Emergency Department? It’s tempting to pile into your car and rush to the hospital when you or a family member is ill or injured, but you’re actually delaying important treatment.
Calling 9-1-1 alerts the emergency medical community that help is needed. When the ambulance arrives, the patient immediately receives an expert evaluation and any treatment can begin. The paramedics will know how to move a patient without causing further injury. And, en route to the hospital they will monitor the victim’s condition and be ready to act should it worsen or become life-threatening.
What hospital should the patient be taken to? Depending on the illness or injury, the ambulance crew may choose the hospital for you. For example, a patient with a possible heart attack may be routed to a hospital with a Chest Pain Center where heart experts are waiting to provide care.
The ambulance crew also alerts the hospital about the patient’s condition and what they need to be prepared for. This gives the ED time to alert any special staff that may be needed.
When you call 9-1-1, the dispatcher will ask a number of questions. Be prepared to give your name, the address, phone number, location of victim (such as upstairs in the bedroom), and nature of the medical problem. Speak calmly and clearly and answer any questions the dispatcher asks.