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ER By Appointment Being Tested

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – When you think about going to the emergency room, odds are the thought of the waiting room could be as painful as the problem that brought you there. Some facilities are now trying a new approach to the ER by allowing people to make reservations.

"You have folks that have to come in who are really, really sick and you want them to be seen but you don't necessarily want to sit amongst them and get sick yourself," said Candi Sturgell who uses the ER appointment system.

That's why Sturgell is a ban fan of ER Express, one of a growing number of company hospitals that now let patients call in advance and make an ER appointment. So when Sturgell walks into the ER, there is no waiting.

"They took us right back," Sturgell said.

The appointments are the most recent change taking place in emergency rooms trying to deal with a constantly growing number of patients. Over the last decade, the number of ER visits has jumped 32 percent and is expected to double over the next ten years.

"For those patients who are sick but don't have a life-threatening illness, you're just getting to hold your place in line," said Sahil Patel of ER Express.

It almost sounds too good to be true. But not everyone is on board with the new approach.

Dr. Dino Rumoro, a fellow with the American College of Emergency Physicians, is concerned patients will be confused.

"An emergent condition is an emergency condition and it's not subject to booking an appointment. It means you need to be seen right away," said Dr. Rumoro.

Rumoro said the service is blurring the real intent of the ER by giving patients the impression they have to book ahead.

"It seems more like we're providing a specialty service at that point, and uh, or a privileged service, and the emergency departments are set up to be there for patients whenever they feel they have a true emergency," Dr. Rumoro said.

Companies like ER Express said there are disclaimers on the sties to be sure those with urgent issues get immediate help.

"Our software reads the symptoms the patient puts in and if they type in something like chest pain or bleeding or numbness, it'll actually stop them, block them and say based on what you told us you need to call 911," Patel said.

Doctors in the hospitals already using the appointment system say it allows them to improve the care they give patients.

"We know ahead of time what they're coming for, we have their charts ready," said Dr. Carlos Garcia.

Candi said when she used the service last time, she was thrilled. The only people who weren't happy were those in the lobby watching as she walked right by them to be seen.

"They did look like 'What was going on? Why are they getting this VIP treatment?," Sturgell asked.

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