The 2017-2018 flu season is proving worse than expected and the virus strains are particularly infectious and dangerous. According to Consumer Reports, the rate of hospitalization for flu was 22.7 per 100,000 people during the first week of January, up from 12.2 hospitalizations per 100,000 people during the same week last year. While outsourcing medical transcription is helping with electronic health record (EHR) documentation, healthcare providers are struggling to cope with the deluge of flu patients.
People are seeking influenza treatment in a variety of healthcare locations such as emergency departments (EDs), urgent care centers, and physicians’ offices. Hospital EDs are bearing the brunt and according to a recent www.ajc.com report, most are seeing 27 to 30 percent more flu patients than they did last year. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that many patients in the low-risk category are seeking care in the ED. Based on their symptoms, patients need to know their best option for flu treatment -ED, urgent care center or physician’s office.
Hospitals are doing their best to cope with the spike in patients with influenza. Many have put their ED on lockdown so that only patients can use the seats in the waiting room. Others are expanding their emergency rooms. The Fresno Bee reported that Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia has put up a tent as an overflow waiting room for patients and family members who accompany them. The sickest patients are seen first and all hospital EDs have devised ways to treat patients with minor illnesses and reduce the time they wait for care. However, this is all physicians and nurses can do. Visiting ED is not the best option for all patients.
Overcrowded EDs frustrate patients and stress the medical team. But it’s not just an issue of patient satisfaction and provider stress. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2013 found that patients at overcrowded emergency departments have a 5 percent higher risk of dying and have longer hospital stays than those at less-crowded hospital EDs.
The symptoms of the current H3N2 flu include fever, chills, or feeling feverish, cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, body aches, headache, fatigue, and vomiting and diarrhea. Older people, very young children, pregnant women, and people with certain long-term health conditions are more vulnerable to serious flu complications. Getting treated quickly is critical for people who are at high risk for serious flu complications. People who are not at high risk for serious flu complications may also be treated with appropriate antiviral drugs, especially if treatment can begin within 48 hours.
Flu patients are seeking treatment in various types of health care facilities – primary care practices, EDs, and urgent care centers. However, they need to know which is the best option for them or their loved ones based on the severity of the symptoms experienced. Those who do not have severe symptoms may not need emergency care and for them, over-the-counter medications with self-treatment at home or a visit to their primary care doctor may suffice. Here are some tips from experts as to the right location for flu treatment based on a person’s symptoms:
According to Consumer Reports advisors, whether a patient is in the high-risk category or not, getting to ER is important in the following situations:
- Fever climbs to 103° F or higher.
- The person has trouble breathing while at rest or with slight exertion.
- The patient experiences serious complications from flu such as pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, or severe vomiting.
- Children have symptoms like breathing fast or have difficulty breathing, bluish skin, fever with a rash, are drinking very little, or are unresponsive.
- A visit to the ER is necessary if a person’s flu symptoms ease but then return, especially with fever and cough.
Experts also recommend that those in the high-risk group-infants, the elderly, women who are pregnant and individuals with medical conditions that affect their ability to fight infections should also visit ER if they experience flu symptoms.
On the other hand, those who have milder symptoms would do well to avoid ERs as they may catch other infections there. According to an expert from the Orange Regional Medical Center (ORMC) people can consider an urgent care center if:
- They have mild to moderate flu symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, headaches, chills and fatigue.
- They want immediate medical attention but cannot get an appointment with their primary care physician.
Urgent care centers are equipped to conduct testing to confirm whether or not a patient has flu. They offer X-rays, IV fluids, and blood work and can prescribe the medication needed for self-treat at home. If patients are found to have severe and life threatening flu symptoms, they will be transferred to the ED.
In conclusion, flu patients with life-threatening events who need a higher level of care and observation should go to their ED. For those with non-life-threatening symptoms, urgent care is a high-quality, timely and affordable option.
As an experienced and reliable medical transcription company, we are always on the alert to meet physicians’ documentation requirements in any public or national crisis. As they manage influenza cases, ER and urgent care physicians can rely on us for timely and accurate medical reports.