Dr. Eric Forsthoefel, a long time emergency room doctor out of Tallahassee, Florida, would like you to play out a hypothetical situation in your head. He’d like you to think of a friend that likes spicy foods. One day, after the usual lunch of spicy foods, your friend experiences chest pains. What would you advise your friend to do?
Dr. Eric Forsthoefel thinks you’d advise your friend to go to the ER to get checked out. It’s wise advice. After all, it could be signs of a heart attack. It could also be signs of heartburn or a pulled muscle.
What would be your response if your friend decided to skip out on the ER visit due to the fear of high medical bills? Your friend would be playing with life and death due to economic concerns. Unfortunately, this is happening all over the country, according to Dr. Eric Forsthoefel.
The doctor is vehemently opposed to a move by health insurance companies to deny coverage to those receiving routine care at an ER. The health insurance company wouldn’t cover your friend if it turned out to be heartburn or a pulled muscle. And insurance companies are pulling this coverage in a reaction to more American using the ER for non-emergency situations.
According to Dr. Eric Forsthoefel, more than a third of Americans have reported using the ER for non-urgent care. Poor people with no health insurance are unlikely to use the ER in this manner due to fears of high medical bills. In fact, more than 80% of the people abusing ER services already have health insurance and would qualify as middle- or high-income patients.
This abuse of the ER is leading to overcrowding which puts emergency patients in jeopardy. ER physicians, nurses and supporting staff have to split their time with non-emergency patients and those in dire need. This division of responsibilities wear thin the resources available to those in an actual emergency. But Dr. Eric Forsthoefel does not want to deter anyone from coming into the ER.
In fact, the experienced emergency room doctor wants his ER’s doors to be open to anyone in any situation. Treating everyone, even those in non-emergency situations, provides the best outcome for all patients. But he still seeks to alleviate this overcrowding problem. He thinks he has the answer.
The people using the ER for routine care are doing so out of sheer convenience. These people report it being a hassle to get an appointment with a primary care physician. They cite cumbersome hours, a lack of open time slots and 24-hour notice regulations as being too difficult to deal with. Many physicians keep normal business hours requiring many to skip out on work to get an appointment.
Dr. Eric Forsthoefel believes that the overcrowding in his ER could by solved by primary care physicians. He urges them to become more available by holding evening hours. He also believes it should be easier to see a specialist as many use the ER to see a specialist on the same day.