EDITORIAL: Easing the burden on hospital ERs

Using hospital emergency rooms wisely will help ease wait-times for those who need urgent care.

ERs across the province are regularly pushed to their limits and beyond over the past number of years, as anyone who’s made a visit on a weekend knows.

Patients all across the province have their own emergency-room horror stories, including those in Surrey where, last month, the BC Nurses Union as well as affected patients spoke out about beds lining the hallways of Surrey Memorial Hospital’s emergency department, which the union claims is the norm, rather than a rarity.

But no matter the problem, and regardless of the hospital, there is a crucial piece of the puzzle to consider when it comes to relieving pressure on emergency departments our own behaviour.

Residents have a responsibility to use the ER wisely and understand that it is not run on a first-come, first-served basis.

Triage procedures place those in genuinely life-threatening circumstances patients experiencing chest pains, having difficulty breathing or suffering severe bleeding at the front of the line.

If your complaint doesn’t fall into one of those categories, however uncomfortable you may be, prepare to wait.

But even that wait can be shortened up when more people understand that a visit to the ER is not always necessary.

In cases of critical or life-threatening problems, of course, one must still seek urgent care by calling 911 or visiting a hospital ER, and making such visits should not be discouraged. But for many issues, perhaps start with a call to your family doctor, who knows your history and may be able to get you in the same day. If your doctor is not available, visit a walk-in clinic or call 811, HealthLink BC to speak with a representative who will help you find health information and services, or connect you with the proper person to offer advice.

For an urgent medication refill, speak with your pharmacist, who may be able to provide an emergency refill of your prescription. Simply put hospital ERs are not the place to go for common illnesses or minor injuries.

The more people who understand and abide by these procedures, the healthier our system will be.