GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Lifestyle

January 25, 2013

Think twice about some ER visits

One hundred thirty-six million – that’s the number of times Americans visited their local emergency room last year.

But that shouldn’t surprise you. With an estimated 300,000,000 people living in this country, going to the ER is as routine a process for some as bringing a newborn to a pediatrician’s office for regular checkups.

It’s a costly service, however, and it’s largely due to the gross misuse of the primary function of an ER – emergent medicine. At an average of $500 per visit, things such as a lingering cold, mild stomach irritation or refilling a medication over the weekend when your doctor’s office is closed, are dramatically increasing the cost of providing medical care — and raising your premiums.

Staffing an emergency department is an expensive endeavor — so expensive that ERs around the country are shutting their doors — like a giant retail chain going out of business, closing dozens of locations per year.

Hopefully you won’t need urgent medical services anytime in the next year (or any years following), but if you do, here are some things you should know prior to checking in.

The average co-payment for an ER visit is $150 — all of which you will be held responsible for — even if no services are provided other than an interview and a vital signs check. That amount may not break the bank for most people, but it might make you wonder if your problem is truly of an urgent nature. By the way, the average co-payment for a visit to your primary care doctor is $25 or less.

The ER is a great place to pick up a strain of drug-resistant bacteria capable of colonizing throughout your body and weakening your immune system. The high-traffic nature of an emergency department ensures that these various, tough-to-kill micro organisms (which are found on most hospital surfaces) are readily available for transmission — especially in the waiting room where you’ll be spending an average of 60 minutes before seeing a doctor.

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