Emergency Room Visits

Many Emergency Room Visits are Preventable

Taking Extra Safety Steps the Best Way to Minimize Risks
  • ​Few things are as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie … and emergency room visits.

    Hot dogs were at the root of two frightening unintentional-injury incidents Dr. Michael Rey recalls from his days treating patients at Haywood Regional Medical Center in Clyde, N.C. One involved a 95-year-old man who put everything in his mouth.

    "He was senile," Rey said. "The other was this 8-year-old boy. He was laughing and eating a hot dog at a local restaurant. Those little things are the perfect tracheal plug. Well, he inhaled it."

    An instant later, the boy's airway was blocked and he was choking. He was rushed to the hospital and put under Rey's medical care.

    "The hot dog didn't come out using the Heimlich maneuver," Rey said. "It was a very tense situation. We were trying to intubate this child, trying to get that hot dog out of his air passage using forceps, which eventually happened."

    Then – and only then – Rey was able to relax as the boy returned to normal breathing. Before the medical professionals take over, people with basic first-aid and CPR training can help stabilize victims. When someone is choking, the trick is to know the signs and how to react.

    "Whenever you have a kid choking, it's more traumatic for doctors and nurses, for everybody, really," Rey said.

    In Injury Facts 2015, a statistical report on unintentional injuries and their characteristics, the National Safety Council found:

    • About 29% of all hospital emergency department visits were injury related
    • The rate of injury-related visits among males younger than age 15 was 14.7 per 100 population
    • Choking or inhalation episodes account for 65,000 emergency department visits

    Some Mishaps Defy Explanation

    Rey spent 30 years treating patients in the emergency room. He stepped back because of the physical demands of the job and now works part-time in an addiction clinic with NSC Medical Advisor Dr. Don Teater.

    Both doctors fully are aware of NSC research that indicates 97% to 99% of injuries sustained by Americans are caused by their own errors and mistakes. Yet, both have witnessed exceptions to these findings.

    Rey treated 10-12 people for injuries they suffered after falling 20-30 feet from a broken chair lift at an amusement park and ski area in Maggie Valley, N.C. He described the scene in the emergency room as intense.

    "We saw broken limbs, broken backs – compression fractures," he said. "A couple people were transferred to a neurosurgical center because of spinal injuries. There were no deaths."

    NSC says the risk of injury due to falls is elevated in accordance with the endless march of Father Time:

    According to Injury Facts 2015, the most commonly mentioned specific body parts involved in emergency department injury visits were wrists, hands and fingers, followed by lower legs, ankles, feet and toes.

    Some injuries fit better in the category of mental debilitation. For example, a friend of Dr. Teater is experiencing anxiety problems as a result of terrorism reports in the news.

    "He won't let his wife go to the mall anymore," Teater said. "He's worried about a shooting, a terrorist attack. The crazy thing is he's worried about the wrong thing, really. He should be more concerned about her driving to work. The risk of injury on the roads is a far more common occurrence."

    Crash Course in Disaster Management

    The definition of uncommon is a case Teater remembers involving a chlorine leak at a paper mill.

    "We had people hooked up to oxygen all along one wall in the ER," he said. "In fact, several were hooked to the same tubing. It was quite a sight. All of them were short of breath or experiencing respiratory symptoms."

    Teater and other local doctors treated the patients following a plan designed to open their lungs, increase oxygen levels and allow them to resume breathing normally. Eventually, all of them recovered and all of them were sent home, which is not always the case in situations involving chemical leaks and poisoning.

    NSC reports:

    • Poisoning accounted for 2.2% of the injury-related emergency department visits in 2011
    • Also in 2011, poisonings overtook motor-vehicle crashes for the first time as the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death
    • Prescription drug overdose is the leading cause of poisoning deaths

    Word of Advice: Pay Attention

    Rey believes Americans can skirt unintended hospital visits by paying greater attention to detail.

    "There are certain times of day when people tend to get injured, like the end of the day," he said. "And they tend to be injured by a lack of attention. They'll be driving down the highway, and they'll reach over to get something off the passenger seat. In that instant, they'll turn the wheel and end up in a wreck.

    "Nowadays, you see it with people texting. If people paid more attention, they would be able to avoid most of these incidents. Let's look at doing household chores, and I'm talking in the context of using hand tools. You would have many less injuries if people paid attention. But they lose their focus – for whatever reason – and before they know it, their lives are changed forever."

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