For many people, having a toothache would mean calling their dentist to schedule an appointment. Or, feeling depressed or anxious would lead them to seek out therapy or medication.
But for those who do not have access to specialty health services, the emergency room is their only option.
A recent University of California, San Francisco study found that alcohol abuse, dental, and mental health issues were causing avoidable ER visits. Visits were labeled as avoidable when patients were discharged without procedures, medications, or tests — like x-rays or blood work.
The most common symptoms for avoidable visits included toothaches, back pain, headaches, sore throat, and mental health issues — cases that most ERs are ill-equipped to handle.
Right time, wrong place
Emergency departments are equipped to treat patients in immediate physical danger. This creates roadblocks when patients need specialty or long-term care, the type of care that the majority of these visits — related to dental and mental health — necessitates.
More often than not, patients who made avoidable visits were discharged without receiving any care at all. Over the seven-year study, this was the outcome of nearly 14 million ER visits.
What it means
Avoidable visits are ineffective for patients and put additional pressure on emergency departments nationwide. They’re also a symptom of a larger issue: people needing greater access to healthcare in the United States.
The researchers say avoidable visits could be reduced by increasing access to dental and mental health facilities. Not only would this give patients better, cheaper places to receive the care they need, but it would relieve the pressure on emergency departments across the nation.