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ER reservations: Convenient, but are they cost effective?

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If you use Open Table to nab a table at your favorite restaurant, you make like the new trend in health care. You can now book reservations in the emergency room.

Anna Gorman, of Kaiser Health News, reported the story for KPCC:

In an era of increased competition driven by the nation's health law, hospitals in California and around the country are hoping online ER appointments will help attract patients anxious to avoid long waits in a crowded and often chaotic environment.

The system, adopted by Northridge Hospital Medical Center and other hospitals in the Dignity Health chain about a year ago, is only for patients with emergencies that are not life threatening or debilitating, such as an ankle sprain or a fever. People with serious emergencies, such as chest pain or trouble breathing, are instructed to call 911 or go directly to an ER. 

This service sounds convenient, but is it cost-effective - or a good use of medical resources?

Gorman writes:

If the country wants to decrease health care costs, patients need to be treated at the right place at the right time, said Dr. Del Morris, president of the California Academy of Family Physicians. Patients who can make appointments should do so at their doctors' offices, he said.

"Emergency rooms are there to take care of people who have emergencies," said Morris, executive director of the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency.

KPCC's audience has chimed in on that point, too. Commenting on the story, one reader, Peter Winston, wrote:

The purpose of an ER is for emergencies. Giving appointments only promotes the inappropriate use of ERs - the highest cost of all physician care in the health care system. Better to promote urgent care as a potential solution - or better yet - their primary care physician.

If a hospital near you offered this service, would you use it?

What other apps do you use to make health care more convenient and accessible?

Tell us in the comments section below, or e-mail us at Your experience could inform future reporting.

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