8 ways to use the ER wisely over the holidays

21/11/2016 2:28:28 PM | 0 comments |
An ER doctor’s tips for getting the care you need – out of his ER. 

You have two weeks off over Christmas and you’re looking forward to a good time. The farthest thing from your mind is your health or that of your family. But in case you do develop a health issue, it’s a good idea to understand your options since your doctor may be enjoying the same week or two away from his or her practice.   
Dealing with a health emergency is straightforward: for immediate care in the event of chest pain, shortness of breath; serious bleeding; fainting or broken bones call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest hospital Emergency. 

Dealing with something you know is not an emergency is less straightforward. “Over the holidays we see spikes in the number of patient visits to our Emergency departments and sometimes these visits can be avoided by simply planning ahead,” says Dr. Neil Barclay, regional medical director for emergency medicine at Fraser Health. 

Before the holiday office and store closures, Dr. Barclay suggests being prepared to take care of yourself by stocking your medicine cabinet with over-the-counter pain relievers, cold medications and antacids to relieve symptoms of minor illnesses. Your local pharmacist can provide you with advice in this area. Also, make sure you have enough of your prescription medications – see your doctor for refills and get them filled before the holidays. Have medications on hand in case a chronic condition like COPD flares up when your doctor is unavailable. 
The doctor also suggests parents understand when their child’s fever or ear infection requires a doctor’s care and how to treat the symptoms when it does not .Calling 8-1-1 is a good go-to source of advice, he suggests; rarely is a trip to the ER necessary.

We asked Dr. Barclay for his best tips for a safer, healthier, merrier holiday season – out of his ER: 
  1. For any health concern, call your family doctor first. Your family doctor knows you and your medical history. In some cases, same-day urgent appointments may be available if you ask. 
  2. If your family doctor is not available check for walk-in clinic wait times and hours. is in most communities in Fraser Health although not all walk-ins are yet participating. Request that a copy of the visit be sent to your family doctor.
  3. For trusted health advice, call 8-1-1, HealthLinkBC, available 24 hours/day, 7 days/week. Speak with a representative who will help you find health information and services, or connect you with a nurse for health advice, a dietitian for nutrition information or a pharmacist (weeknights 5-9 p.m.) for medication advice.
  4. For an urgent medication refill, speak with your pharmacist. Your pharmacist may be able to provide an emergency refill of your prescription, including medications for chronic conditions. Contact your pharmacist for minor issues that might be managed with over-the-counter medications.
  5. For mental health concerns, call the Fraser Health Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-877-820-7444. 
  6. For a child/youth mental health crisis, call Fraser Health’s START program at 1-844-782-7811.
    • Dec 24: 11:45am-5pm 
    • Dec 25 & 26: Closed
    • Dec 27-30: 9am-9pm
    • Dec 31: 12pm-9 pm
    • Jan 1: Closed
  7. For a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control at 1-800-567-8911.
  8. For an urgent dental concern such as a traumatic injury to the mouth or jaw, severe pain that can’t be controlled with over-the-counter meds, severe swelling or uncontrolled bleeding visit and select dental emergencies. All dentists in BC are required to provide patients with emergency dental care when the need arises, either themselves or by making arrangements with another dentist.  More info on dental emergencies.
For critical or life-threatening conditions call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest Emergency room. Hospital emergency rooms are not the place to go for common illnesses or minor injuries.

7 unwise uses of the ER 

Dr. Barclay responds to the common non-emergencies he and his colleagues in the ER hear about every day:
  1. I need an MRI and I have been waiting a long time. Your doctor will order an MRI if necessary and you will be placed on a waitlist. Coming to the ER will not move you up a waiting list – whether for a specialist referral or surgical procedure of any kind.
  2. I forgot to get my prescription refilled. Rarely an urgent need. Your own doctor is the best person to determine whether a refill is okay, according to your personal health profile.
  3. My blood sugar is always high and needs testing. Your doctor is the best person to manage your chronic diabetes and interpret any tests in light of your personal health profile.
  4. I think I’m pregnant and need a test. Pregnancy test kits can be purchased without a prescription at any pharmacy. 
  5. My blood pressure is high. It can be dangerous to reduce blood pressure in the ER and rarely will they adjust your medications. Your doctor is the best person to manage any chronic conditions and to interpret any tests they may order in light of your personal health profile.
  6. I need something for this bad cough. ER doctors and nurses do not have any cures for the viruses that cause colds and flus. A pharmacist can provide advice about over-the-counter cold and flu remedies.
  7. I missed work yesterday and need a sick note. ER doctors cannot provide you a note for an illness you have suffered in the past.

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