Madison-area health systems are reporting high numbers of emergency department visits

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) — Emergency departments in the Madison area are seeing more visits and longer-than-usual wait times, numbers that only seem to continue to grow through the fall.

“The number of patients seeking care in our emergency departments and our urgent care is very high, like a record number of people seeking care,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, Chief Quality Officer of UW Health. “RSV or upper respiratory tract disease makes up a fairly large portion of those visits, especially pediatric patients.”

UW Health says emergency care visits hit a record number in September before increasing 10% in October. In the ED, UW Health recorded a single-day record of more than 350 patients earlier in November. SSM Health is also reporting an increase in patient numbers, with ER visits up 20% between 2020 and 2021 and numbers up another 10% in recent months.

“As we ease some of those restrictions, a lot of those viruses, in addition to COVID, are starting to circulate, and we’ve seen an earlier season, and we’re really seeing it in the ER,” said Dr. Kyle Martin, SSM Health’s regional director of emergency medicine.

Dr. Martin says the easing of COVID-19 restrictions that also affected the spread of other viruses is part of the reason for the influx, along with an earlier flu season. Dr. Pothof says others aren’t sure if their medical situation is an emergency and go to the emergency room when there are alternatives.

“We have a Care Anywhere platform that instantly connects you via video in your home to a provider who can answer some of the questions you might be wondering,” said Dr. Pothof.

Dr. Martin says if people can contact a GP or use telehealth it could help reduce visits and reduce waiting times, which he says can sometimes be up to four hours.

“Your primary care office is really your first bet; call them; they have protocols in place to figure out, should you be seen in a clinic tomorrow, should you be seen in the emergency room or in the emergency room,” said Dr. Martin.

Both doctors remind everyone that if you are in an emergency, don’t hesitate to come to the ER.

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