Last month, a senior relative of mine decided she needed to go to emergency. She had a sudden onset of back pain and some other issues that her GP had not resolved. So, living alone, she called the paramedics and went to the hospital. When she told me her plan to go to the ER, I thought it was perhaps unnecessary and tried to gently talk her into waiting it out overnight, but to no avail.
Once in the hospital, she was quickly admitted to a ward for a couple of days where they ran a series of tests and determined that there were no serious issues. She went home feeling relieved and well cared-for, especially when the physiotherapist visited the next day to do some follow up on her mobility issues.
So, what’s wrong with this scenario? Nothing, if we can afford it. I thought about the health authority’s new posters and flyers, trying to persuade people to use community health services rather than go to emergency. Obviously, there is concern about the growing number of seniors and their potential to overwhelm our hospital system. The problem is that, from the senior’s perspective, it is much simpler to go to the hospital than to try to deal with numerous health issues in the community. For my relative, it is a major effort to get dressed, do her makeup and hair, arrange transportation, walk through office buildings, wait for the appointment and get home again. She can only manage one such trip a day and it wears her out.
Many seniors expend all their energy going to medical appointments and tests, leaving no time for the activities that make life worth living. On top of this, there is the long lead time for some of these appointments and tests to be scheduled. The alternative is to go to emergency and get all your blood work, imaging and specialist consults done in one or two days, with no need to get dressed or even get out of bed.
Until we find a way to bring more health care services to our seniors’ homes, I predict we will continue to see heavy use of the ER by seniors and their families. In addition, we need to see more grouping of services such as family doctors, labs, and imaging clinics, enabling everything to be dealt with on one visit. Our healthcare system needs to quickly adapt to seniors who have decreasing mobility and energy as their health needs increase. The alternative is an increasing number of costly ER visits.