‘If this is an emergency, call 911’


This is the mantra that the world hears when they call most, if not all, hospitals and medical clinics for the symptomatic relief of a myriad of health care complaints. Exactly what is the definition of an emergency is uncertain. We all could include severe chest pain, shortness of breath or sudden collapse or loss of consciousness.

To a patient, an emergency might just include the pressing need to speak to their doctor about the occurrence of symptoms and or anxieties that suddenly have occurred. In the past, before the telephone was invented, a friend or family member was sent by horseback or a Ford V8 to find the local doctor. With the advent of the telephone, doctors actually listed their number in a phone directory to facilitate contact with their patient.

Dr. Sidney Goldstein, professor of medicine at Wayne State University and division head emeritus of cardiovascular medicine at Henry Ford Hospital, both in Detroit.

Dr. Sidney Goldstein

But at the dawn of the 21st century land phones were replaced by cell phones, and doctors became increasingly merged into groups of physicians, and the individual practitioner disappeared. At the same time doctors became aware of the need to have some family time. The middle of the night and weekend telephone calls became an abhorrent incursion into their busy and overstressed lives.

Enter the current situation. Many patients still perceive the need to call their doctor for everything from a mild cough or headache or an actual fever to just not feeling well. This perceived patient need to seek expert medical help short of an ambulance ride to the emergency room leads the patient into the frustrating downward spiral associated with this bizarre need to communicate with their doctor.


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