The Decision of Where to Seek Care Is Complicated by the Multitude of Options

by | Jan 11, 2023 | Health

One evening in February 2017, Sarah Dudley’s husband, Joseph, started to feel sick.

He had a high fever, his head and body ached, and he seemed disoriented, she said. The Dudleys had a decision to make: go to the hospital emergency room or to an urgent care clinic near their home in Des Moines, Iowa.

“ERs take five, six, seven hours before you’re seen by a doctor, depending on how many people are there,” Sarah said. “I know that I can go to an urgent care clinic and be seen within an hour.”

According to court filings, at the clinic, a physician assistant misdiagnosed Joseph with the flu. His condition worsened. A few days later he was hospitalized for bacterial meningitis, and he was placed into a medically induced coma. He had multiple strokes, lost hearing in one ear, and now has trouble processing information. The Dudleys sued over the error and a jury awarded them $27 million, though the defendants have asked for a new trial.

Their story reflects a challenge in the American health care system: People who are injured or sick are asked, in a moment of stress, to prudently decide which medical setting is the best place to seek help. And they must make that choice amid a growing number of options.

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