"Recently there's been a lot of hospital closings, hospitals don't have as many inpatient [facilities];" says Dr. Mark Winther of Little Falls Hospital, "so it used to be believed that what crowds the hospital is the non-urgent--the sore throat, twisted ankle, runny nose, fever... but what really ties up the emergency department is the admitted patients, the pneumonia, the flu patients, the stroke of the heart attack, and that ties up staff taking care of them so it makes it harder to see the sore throat, or the ankle injury."
And Dr. Winther says the problem is getting worse - but it could get better. He says it will take a mutli-faceted approach, but ideally, the new affordable care act could fix some of the issues - first starting with more preventative care services.
"Things like health maintenance, helping with hypertension, because we know that increases your risk for stroke, heart disease, things like obesity, things like obesity. In the year 2020 50% of the population will be obese, huge problem - diabetes, joint aches, so if that can help people get into prevention, immunizations, things like the flu shot, that can prevent people from getting sick and coming to the ER that would be great."
Also, the more people who are insured, the more likely they'll try their primary care doctor first, and if they still need to use the ER--their insurance will help provide income for the hospital - which could help in providing greater service in the ER. But Dr. Winther says he doesn't know that it will ever get 100% percent better, but he's hopeful it will improve. His best advice - come to the ER if you need it, but if you can, see your doctor.