CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Think relief from a headache or fever is worth $383? How about just $60? You can save hundreds of dollars by visiting your regular physician instead of using the emergency room for routine care and treatment. It’s your choice.

Educating Tennesseans that their health care choices can dramatically vary in cost is part of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s ongoing Your Choice education campaign.

Nationwide, 10.7 million, or about 10 percent of emergency room visits in 2000 were for non-emergency care, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

The Tennessee Department of Health also reports that nearly half of Tennessee residents visited an emergency room in 2000. In its Joint Annual Survey of Hospitals, the organization found 424 of every 1,000 Tennessee residents visited the emergency department.

“The emergency room should not replace traditional physician office visits,” said Dr. Steve Coulter, senior vice president and chief medical officer for BlueCross. “An unnecessary visit to the ER will not only cost you more money, but it may also prevent others from receiving crisis care in a timely manner.”

In 2002, the American Hospital Association (AHA) reported that 62 percent of emergency rooms in the United States said they regularly operated at or above capacity.

The AHA also indicated that as capacity goes over its limits, average emergency room waiting time increases to 65 minutes for treatment, and the average time spent waiting for and receiving treatment rises from two and a half hours to almost four.

“Time is of the essence in a true emergency and people should take care to avoid unnecessary ER trips. There are prudent steps that people can take to ensure they receive the quality care they need and keep the cost affordable for everyone,” Coulter said.

Before going to an emergency room, you should determine if the situation is a true emergency. If it’s not a critical situation, you should call your physician, take appropriate over-the-counter medication or wait until you can schedule an appointment with your doctor. If the problem is an emergency, you should not hesitate to go to the hospital.

Maintaining a good relationship with one doctor who knows you and your medical history is also advisable. Having a primary care doctor can benefit your overall health and provide important follow-up and long-term medical care.

The reminder to save the emergency room for true emergencies is part of the BlueCross Your Choice campaign, designed to educate Tennessee businesses and employees that they have choices when it comes to their health care, and that their decisions can affect their medical costs.

The complete Your Choice program, featuring ready-to-use articles, posters, payroll stuffers, e-mail messages and reminders on 12 health care cost topics, is available as a CD toolkit, free of charge to BlueCross fully insured and self-funded group accounts. The kit has two CDs, with materials in English and Spanish, and can be acquired by contacting a BlueCross account manager or sending an e-mail to YourChoice@bcbst.com.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.