When a serious illness lingers or even becomes chronic, access to urgent or immediate care can be vital.
Certain conditions, including congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are especially prone to spark urgent situations, such as the patient suffering severe shortness of breath.
When severe health issues strike, a growing number of Americans are using the emergency room of a nearby hospital as their first option for care.
ER visits are on the rise.
About 75 percent of emergency rooms reported an increase in visits during 2015, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Nearly 2 million ER visits per year are related to heart disease, including CHF, and studies showed that 13 percent of CHF patients had six or more ER visits in one year, and more than 29 percent had two or more visits.
Two factors contribute to the spike in ER usage: a national shortage of primary care physicians, and the fact that ERs are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to handle crisis situations.
However, ER visits can be expensive and may lead to hospital admissions with even higher medical bills.
A recent study by doctor's at Brigham and Women's Hospital concluded that more than half of hospital re-admissions due to heart failure are potentially preventable with proper use of medications and other symptom management.
Help available to prevent ER visits.
An option to consider for reducing Emergency Room visits is palliative care. Palliative care is a specialized area of medicine that's focused on managing pain and other symptoms of illness, including anxiety and stress.
"Palliative care helps treat people suffering from the symptoms and stress of their chronic and serious illnesses," explained Christine Khandelwal, D.O., director of inpatient palliative care for Transitions PalliativeCare. "We hope to give people the control over their medical care by truly exploring their own goals and helping them to understand treatment options. By managing a person's symptoms and supporting their family, we help people carry on with their daily life, while improving their quality of life."
Patients of any age and at any stage of any chronic serious illness may be eligible. Palliative care can be given in tandem with disease-directed treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and may be very effective in offsetting the side effects of such treatments.
A palliative care physician or nurse practitioner consults with the patient's physician to complement their care plan. Relief and prevention of symptoms are achieved by a tailored combination that's right for the patient's needs and wishes. Care may include medications, family and spiritual support and other therapies.
What's more, palliative care is provided wherever the patient calls home, whether it's a private residence, assisted living facility or skilled nursing center.
"With ongoing monitoring and symptom management, palliative care helps keep the patient home -- and out of the ER and hospital," said Laura Patel, M.D., chief medical officer for Transitions LifeCare.
A recent study showed that the re-admission rate fell from around 25 percent to less than 15 percent when patients received additional care to manage their medications, diet and symptoms.
This story was written for our sponsor, Transitions PalliativeCare.