The Emergency Room Breakdown

Health Insurance Online | May 24, 2013

Something is wrong.  Your head hurts, but not like a headache.  It’s been hurting all day and it’s actually starting to affect your decision-making and distort your vision.  Do I need more sleep?  Am I dehydrated?  After a quick browse on WebMD you cannot seem to pinpoint the symptoms.  As your mind begins to wander to worst-case scenarios, you decide it best to drive yourself to the emergency room and have an expert take a look but you don’t have a ride.  This article explores everything from the ambulance ride to the final bill.

Emergency Room

To Visit, or Not to Visit:

It might be easy to error on the side of caution.  And while nobody is going to tell you to avoid the emergency room if you feel it necessary, consider that in 2011, more than 18 billion dollars could have been saved if patients experiencing problems that were considered non-urgent used preventive health care and not leaned on Emergency Rooms to care for them.  Here is a helpful guide to determine whether to visit an Emergency Room or an Urgent Care Facility.

ambulance ride cost

The Ambulance Ride:

The Federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (as well as many others) advise calling an ambulance when any other method of transportation is inadvisable.  Whatever the situation, ambulance rides are sometimes necessary and can save a life.   According to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 15% of all emergency room visitors arrived by an ambulance and 43% of all hospital admissions originate in an emergency room.  Open 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year, neither the emergency room nor the ambulance have the luxury for a break.

If you ever find yourself in an ambulance, here are some important tips. And you should also be happy to note that ambulance drivers pass rigorous certification examinations and will know how to provide immediate life-saving care in the event of an emergency.   Now, if you’ve made the decision to take an ambulance, don’t be taken by surprise at the costs that show up later.    Ambulance rides do not operate under the same fare system as taxi-cabs or rickshaws.  No, this potentially life-saving lift can cost up to $900 in some states.  Find out if your health insurance will cover your ambulance ride.

Waiting Room:

Waiting in an emergency room is painful for more reasons than one. First, there is the obvious presence of people in discomfort ranging from mild to agonizing: agonizing gets seen first. You can see the 10 most common reasons for an ER visit here. Then there is the wait itself. Billboards promoting average ER wait-times can be seen at 25 minutes, well below the CDC statistics putting the average wait times nation-wide at 58.1 minutes. In a study by Press Ganey, a consultant for around 10,000 health care facilities, the average time spent for a visit to an emergency room was 4 hours and 3 minutes.
Here are three tips to avoiding busy wait times at the ER:
1. Don’t Get a Case of the Mondays: Mondays are the busiest day. People that become ill over the weekend will generally wait until Monday to visit the ER because…well…they don’t want to spend their weekend in the ER! If at all possible, avoid getting hurt or sick on a Monday (we know how ridiculous that is).

2. Call your doctor while you’re driving to the ER: Sometimes it helps to have a physician in your corner or in the ear of the ER front desk. They can better explain how you’re feeling and speak hospital language. It hurts over here isn’t quite going to get you to the front of the line.

3. Don’t Leave: If you’ve been waiting a while and are getting frustrated. Don’t leave. This isn’t Denny’s where you can just leave the lobby to go home and make yourself some pancakes. If your condition has changed or if you feel you have been waiting too long and are getting concerned, ask to speak with the nurse in charge or the shift supervisor.

4. Here are some more helpful tips when in the Emergency Room.

emergency room wait

Seeking Medical Attention:

The time finally comes when the doctor or nurse is ready to see you.  Prior to ever finding yourself in the Emergency Room, it might be a good idea to review your health insurance premiums, deductibles, and co-pays.  It might save you a great deal of money in the long run and impact the decisions you make during these moments of medical attention.  You will be evaluated by a nurse and registered as a hospital patient.  At this time you will provide medical information and consent for medical treatment.


Your doctor will review your medical history (see previous) and may order additional tests.  There may be consultations with other doctors, nurses on staff and other specialists.  It truly is a team effort to make sure you’re taken care of, properly diagnosed, and cared for.  According to accounts at Riverside Hospital, once you are stabilized and emergency treatment is rendered, a decision is made to admit you to the hospital or send you home with instructions for following care.  It’s no choose your own adventure novel, but the staff is working in your best interest to keep you healthy and safe.


You may have prescriptions and instructions for the days and weeks following your visit.  This is the time to ask questions.  You have the full face-to-face attention of a Doctor.  Take advantage and ask them now.  It is important that you understand discharge instructions fully.  One CBS news study found that only 49% of discharge patients could report the treatment plan back when quizzed.  Write down the plan, record it, send yourself a voicemail; anything to help you remember the steps after ER.

Admitted To The Hospital:

If you are requiring specialized or extended care, you are admitted to the hospital and moved to a room as quickly as possible.  Although this hospital survival guide is meant for planned admittance to a hospital (not so lucky for ER patients), the information is still useful.

emergency room costs

The Wonderful Land of Medical Bills:

A recent study showed that the average cost of a visit to the ER for over 8,000 patients across the U.S. was $2,168 (The Atlantic).  Although hospitals cannot legally deny treatment of a patient in need of immediate care, they do have the right to vigorously collect fees resulting from the stay and medical bills can linger for a lifetime.  What you can certainly expect is the unexpected.  Emergency room costs are bafflingly unpredictable. A trip to the emergency room for a strange headache, for example, can run anywhere from 15 bucks to $10,000 in fees!  If you’re trying to avoid fees, the first trick is to stay out of the emergency room, but only if you safely can. Hopefully this article has helped articulate what to expect in a visit before, during and after a visit to the emergency room. Just remember to stay smart and stay safe!

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