It's estimated a third of us will head to the emergency room this year. But the Centers for Disease Control says up to 20-percent of ER visits don't require emergency care.
Unnecessary emergency room trips aren't just pushing hospitals to the limit, they also cost you time and money you may not need to spend.
Stormont-Vail Emergency Room director Dot Rice says when you come to the emergency room, you should expect a minimum two-hour wait. She says it takes time because every ER visit sets in motion a process.
The process can be an expensive one. A McGohan-Brabender report says visiting your doctor costs an average $60. An average ER visit rings up at $638.
That number doesn't factor in your priceless time. First, of course, you wait for whoever may be in front of you. Once it is your turn, a triage nurse assesses your symptoms, then it's on to registration - and that's all before you even see a nurse or doctor for a physical evaluation that you can also expect to take extra time.
Rice says unlike your primary doctor who already has registration information and your medical background, an ER doctor is starting from ground zero and must take extra precautions to ensure the patient's safety.
Stormont-Vail has started an ExpressCare service in its ER to deal with the minor cases that come in, but Rice says time taken with those takes away from true emergencies, decreasing turnaround time for more serious situations.
All of that may have you wondering when you really need to go the ER in the first place. For example, when your child has a fever.
Rice says for an infant three months or younger, a fever of over 100-degrees rectally would be of concern. She says children a little bit older can tolerate fevers well up to 102 or 103 degrees. She suggests over the counter medicines for older children and calling your pediatrician to see if it warrants an emergency visit.
As for sprains and strains, Rice says an obvious deformity signals immediate attention. Severe pain can also be a factor.
When the severe pain is from a headache, Rice says a sudden splitting head in someone with no history of headaches could signal meningitis or bleeding on the brain, and may warrant an immediate trip in.
How suddenly the pain appears can also guide you when it comes to your stomach. Rice says sudden onset of abdominal pain can be more serious than a continuous aching with some nausea and vomiting that might just be a virus.
As for one thing you don't even want to question an ER trip for, Rice says its chest pain.
Every situation is unique, so even with this advice, Rice says the ER is there if you need it.
"The bottom line is, if you're not comfortable, come on in," she said.