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Inside the Emergency Department: Myth vs. Fact

November 15, 2019

Your husband is experiencing chest pain. Your daughter falls off her bike and may have fractured her wrist. Your sore throat got worse over the weekend. Where do you turn in each of these situations? An emergency department (ED) or urgent care center?

“Trust your instincts and your own common sense,” says Cynthia Benson, DO, assistant medical director for Overlook’s ED. “Sudden, potentially life-threatening conditions justify a trip to the emergency department. For minor illnesses or injuries, your primary care physician or local urgent care center is your best bet.”

Below, Dr. Benson dispels some common myths about visiting the ED and offers some practical guidelines about when, where and how to seek emergency care. 

MYTH: You are treated in the order in which you arrive at the ED.

FACT: “Patients who need immediate lifesaving intervention are treated first. Triage (the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatment based on the severity of their condition) begins the moment you walk in the door. If, for example, two 45-year-old men with chest pain come to the ED minutes apart, a triage nurse will immediately check their vital signs, medical history and an EKG to determine who needs to be seen first.” 

MYTH: If you come to the ED via ambulance, you are seen faster.

FACT: “Whether you arrive by ambulance or walk into the ED, our immediate assessment of your condition determines who needs to be seen first. We never want anyone to wait, but sometimes it is a necessity based on the critical needs of other patients.” 

MYTH: If you do not have a primary care physician, then you should go to the emergency department when you feel ill.

FACT: “We treat every patient who walks through our doors, but keep in mind that emergency department physicians are not primary care physicians. ED docs are specially trained to stabilize patients with life-threatening emergencies. We recommend going to a primary care physician, or in off hours, an urgent care center that could better manage those issues. At Overlook, we have an excellent referral service that matches patients with primary care physicians, and it’s available for those with and without health insurance.”

MYTH: There is no difference between the cost of an ED visit and urgent care center visit.

FACT: “While the cost of a visit to the ED or urgent care center depends upon your insurance provider, your copay and whether you’ve met your deductible, the cost of an ED visit is generally more than twice the cost of an urgent care visit. It’s a good idea to know the details of your policy before an emergency arises.”

For more information on Overlook's Emergency Department, visit atlantichealth.org/overlookemergency.