There seem to be a complex interplay of reasons, mostly related to socio-economic factors. My over-simplified take on it is basically that hospital ERs, which are required by law to serve people needing care, can't afford to keep their doors open and serve populations in need.
Without getting overly intense and working up a full head of steam here on why this really makes me mad, I'll remain calm and focus on my trusty iPhone (or as I like to call it, my pacifier).
There's an app for that
I decided to see if there was an iPhone app available on Apple's app store to help you find out about available emergency care in your area. It turns out that, of course, there's an app for that.
The app is called "Help I'm Hurt", and it lets you enter your zip code and view a list of emergency care locations near you, along with reviews and information about the possible locations.
I searched in my zip code, found some locations I was already aware of, some I was happy to be made aware of, and some that seemed less than useful. The app let me easily place a call to one of the locations to ascertain the hours and cost of care.
In case of an emergency, please dial 911
In case of a true emergency (such as sudden chest pain, suspected stroke, etc.), please dial 911. Don't try to get in the car and drive yourself. If what's going on with you isn't serious enough to warrant a ride to the hospital, the EMTs will certainly let you know. But if it is serious, you'll start receiving care immediately, and you'll be on the fast track for care once you arrive at the hospital.
If it isn't a true emergency, but you are sick or hurt, and you don't currently have a general practitioner, family doctor, health care provider, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or whatever other name or form that might take these days (or if you don't have health insurance), it might be a good idea to try an ambulatory care clinic.
Heck, they can be helpful even if your regular doctor is on vacation or doesn't have an appointment time open for you. There are some limits on the care they can provide, but you can call ahead, let them know what's up with you, and ask if they think it's within the scope of their practice to help.
Lots of people panic and go to the ER when they need medical attention, but aren't having a true medical emergency, which can kinda bring on a "heart attack" later when the bill arrives in the mail. It can also clog up an already-overburdened ER (which brings us full circle to the aforementioned ER problem).
Urgent care clinics are one way to be seen and treated in a timely fashion. Often the fees are comparatively reasonable, and can be put on a credit card. They are usually busiest at their opening and closing times.
Familiarize yourself with your local ambulatory (walk-in) urgent care providers, their hours, and their prices ahead of time. That way, you can incorporate the information into your emergency care plan.
What health and emergency care applications do you have on your iPhone or iPad? TalkBack below.