Avoid emergency for minor issues

St. Joseph's chief of staff says be aware of the difference between symptoms of colds and of something more serious

St. Joseph’s Health Centre has one of the busiest emergency departments in the Greater Toronto Area, and is offering some tips so you don’t have to end up there this winter.

With the season of sniffles and sneezes rearing its ugly head, it’s important to know which symptoms are indicative of something more serious than a cold, said St. Joseph’s chief of staff, Dr. Ted Rogovein.

“We don’t want people who have minor problems coming to the emergency department when they can be dealt with effectively in other places,” he said. “This time of year, I think the challenge is for people to differentiate between something as simple as the cold and the flu.”

Two important flu symptoms to look out for are a high fever and muscle aches. Chest pain, shortness of breath, sudden onset of dizziness or weakness, a bad cough or any unusual bleeding can be indicative of a flu or other serious condition.

“With those kinds of things it’s not unreasonable to be heading for your emergency department,” Rogovein said.

If people are unsure if they or their loved one has a cold or flu, it can be helpful to call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0007 to diagnose whether or not it’s an emergency condition.

Prevention is the most effective method in staying out of the emergency room, Rogovein said. It’s important to wash your hands and maintain personal hygiene to avoid catching the flu, and sneezing into your sleeve, rather than your hand while in public places so you don’t spread it.

“If you haven’t had your flu shot, absolutely go get it,” Rogovein suggested.

St. Joseph’s emergency department recorded 93,741 visits in the 2010-2011 fiscal year. They expect at least 96,000 visits in the next year.

Rogovein said most patients are from the surrounding area and the neighbourhood has experienced significant growth.

“The numbers have been growing steadily,” he said. “I think it’s mainly a geographical thing.”

In the winter, St. Joseph’s experiences higher-than-average emergency visits, mainly due to upper respiratory complications.

“The expectation is that for the next few months, there will be our usual seasonal increase in volumes through the emergency department,” he noted.

However, Rogovein made it clear residents are always welcome at St. Joseph’s emergency department if they’re not comfortable going somewhere else.

“You are going to be taken care of at St. Joseph’s emergency department, but obviously the more people that are there, the more of a challenge it will be for us to continue our timely care,” he said. “We’ve stepped up to that challenge each and every time and we’ll do it again.”

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Posted: Nov 28 2011 7:38 pm
Filed in: Health & Wellness
Edition: Toronto