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Be prepared: When to visit the emergency room

December 04, 2015

The holidays are a time of giving, gathering and sharing good food. This also can be one of the most dangerous times of year, when household accidents and injuries abound.

Cooking may involve accidental cuts or burns; holiday decorating could end up being hazardous because of falls or accidental electrocution. Many people slip and fall on the ice and snow this time of year.

Most people know that they need to seek emergency medical care in the case of a life-threatening accident, but does every accident require a visit to the local emergency room? What is the best way to determine what to do, if an accident should occur?

According to Dr. Doug Paul, medical director for trauma services at Kettering Medical Center and Kettering Health Network, people should use common sense when deciding what to do after suffering an injury or illness.

"You need to understand what your community resources are before you decide where to seek care," Paul said. "Can you go to an urgent care, or to your own personal physician's office instead?"

Paul suggests the following to determine whether emergency room treatment is needed:

  1. Before you go: Know what your individual insurance policy covers, and be an educated consumer. "I think it would be of value to find out what the out-of-pocket cost is at an urgent care versus an emergency room. Know what you are responsible for so you can get the best bang for your buck," Paul said. "You should know this before you get sick or injured."
  2. How bad is it? Many common illnesses, such as sinus congestions or rashes, don't require treatment in the middle of the night. "You can probably delay and just visit your family doctor," Paul said. "You should use the emergency room if you need a hospital for a specialized scan or surgery."
  3. Is your life in danger? Use emergency room treatment for potentially life-threatening issues only. "These would be things like difficulty breathing, chest pains or severe abdominal pain, for example," Paul said. "If you are a victim of a traumatic incident, have fallen or have a fractured extremity, you may seek treatment at an urgent care."
  4. When you go: In the event that an emergency room visit is warranted: Notify your personal physician, if possible, so he or she can take action as needed. Take along your health information card, to ensure that the physician treating you will have the most up-to-date information. Bring someone else with you who can make certain you are receiving all your important health information. Finally, be ready to describe all your symptoms clearly.
  5. If you are experiencing a true emergency: Call 911.