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E.R. Doctors Give ’12 Days of Christmas’ Tips

doc xmasThe joyful song about French hens, turtle doves, and a partridge rings in a cheerful holiday season for all. And for those celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas, it’s a wonderful time of the year. As the celebrations of the season go into full swing, emergency medicine physicians and their teams know to expect all types of medical situations arriving in their emergency rooms. And, to keep patients from making unnecessary trips to their local emergency rooms on what should be days of joy, physicians share 12 ideas on how you can enjoy a safer holiday season.
Day 1 – Improper use of prescription drugs can be dangerous
Fight prescription drug abuse by stopping doctor shoppers and also safely disposing of any medications in your home that you no longer need.
It’s time for Pennsylvania’s elected leaders to help physicians fight prescription drug abuse and pill scammers by passing legislation in 2014 to create a prescription monitoring system.
“Keeping prescription drugs out of the wrong hands will save lives and hopefully result in fewer visits to the ER,” said Bruce A. MacLeod, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society and a practicing emergency physician in Pittsburgh. “A shared drug monitoring system would give physicians a leg up on pill scammers.”
Dr. MacLeod adds that patients should only take medications as prescribed by their doctors.  Cleaning out medicine cabinets and safely disposing medications from past illnesses and surgeries will also help protect patients and their communities.
Day 2 – More Psychiatric Beds Are Needed
Increase psychiatric beds across the state and start a statewide tracking system to locate available beds. Those needing mental health services often start looking for help in emergency departments.  Increasingly, more are doing so.  The problem however is that it may take hours or even days for treatment since there is no system to help emergency physicians know where psychiatric and detoxification beds are available.
“We want to get patients the help they need,” said Charles Barbera, MD, president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians and chairman of emergency medicine at The Reading Hospital and Medical Center. “When someone needs mental health services, we could get them help quicker if we knew where psychiatric care beds are open.”
Day 3 – Watch out for “Wrap Rage”
Beware of “Wrap Rage.” Believe it or not, emergency physicians will see an occasional injury caused by opening a gift.
According to The Patient Poll conducted by the Institute for Good Medicine at the Pennsylvania Medical Society in 2009, about 17 percent of Pennsylvanians experienced an injury or knows someone who was injured while opening gifts during past seasons. The poll surveyed Pennsylvania adults statewide.
“Gifts aren’t always designed to open easily, and some people will resort to using sharp objects to cut through hard plastic coverings,” says Dr. MacLeod. “Avoid using sharp objects to open difficult packaging and take your time to dodge holiday injuries when decorating, cooking, or even rushing about, especially in inclement weather.  Remember, safety always comes first.”
Day 4 – Properly prepare and store all foods
Dr. Barbera says food poisoning doesn’t take the holiday season off, and there’s a lot of food being consumed.
“Always cook meats thoroughly and refrigerate foods that need to stay cool,” says Dr. Barbera. “You would rather be eating your holiday meal with your family at home than getting an IV in the hospital.”
Day 5 – Don’t Drink and Drive
Many celebrations include alcohol consumption. Too much can be dangerous.
“If you’re going out to a party, and you know you are going to drink, make sure you don’t try to drive home,” says Dr. MacLeod.  “Have a designated driver who has not had anything to drink.”
Day 6 – Address medically underserved areas
Some parts of Pennsylvania, particularly rural and inner city locations can use more health care professionals.  Programs can be developed to encourage physicians to practice and build health care teams in those locations.
“Increased residency slots and medical student loan forgiveness programs would help bring more physicians to locations that have had difficulty recruiting,” says Dr. Barbera. “That would improve access to care.”
Day 7 – Why does gun violence happen?
Gun violence research and hospital-based violence intervention programs are needed. Emergency physicians see the harm that results from improper gun use, but yet there’s little unbiased research from a medical perspective on how to disrupt the pattern of violence. In addition, intervention programs have been shown to decrease retaliation and violence, but are not readily available in communities.
“The more we know about the causes of gun violence the better we will get at addressing this public health issue,” says Dr. MacLeod. “I’ve treated too many gunshot victims in my emergency rooms that possibly could have been avoided.”
Day 8 – Too much caffeine isn’t a good thing
Watch energy drinks.  You might be tempted to have a few energy drinks to get through late night holiday parties, but remember they’re loaded with caffeine that can boost heart rate and blood pressure (sometimes to the point of palpitations), dehydrate the body, and, like other stimulants, prevent sleep.
“Danger does exist for those who consume too many energy drinks, particularly when they’re combined with alcohol,” says Dr. Barbera.
Day 9 – Nicotine isn’t good for you either
Regulate electronic cigarettes.   These devices deliver nicotine to the body, and at the moment are not regulated.  Nicotine constricts blood vessels throughout the body. Blood and oxygen can’t move as easily through narrowed blood vessels, increasing the likelihood of heart disease or stroke. While some may use these to break away from tobacco products, non-smokers should avoid picking one up and beginning.
“We see plenty of heart attack and stroke victims in emergency rooms,” says Dr. MacLeod. “Your body just doesn’t need nicotine, so if you’re a non-smoker never pick up a cigarette even if it’s an electronic one. And if you’re a smoker, find a way to quit.”
Day 10 – Buy a helmet to go along with that new motorcycle or bike you got for Christmas
Wear your helmet.  Pennsylvania allows motorcyclists to ride helmetless.
“Helmets save lives,” says Dr. Barbera.  “Encouraging safe motorcycle riding that includes helmet use will keep more people out of the emergency rooms across the state.”
Dr. Barbera adds that wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle is also a good idea.
Day 11 – Check your carbon monoxide detectors to make sure they’re working
Have a carbon monoxide detector in your house.  It’s that time of the year when more people will be using indoor kerosene heaters. One danger with such a heater is carbon monoxide poisoning that can kill a person.
“If you use an indoor kerosene heater and start feeling confused or having shortness of breath,” says Dr. MacLeod, “you could be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning. Having a CO detector in your house could be a life saver.”
Michael Lynch, MD, medical director at the Pittsburgh Poison Center, says his center alone took 267 calls last year regarding carbon monoxide poisoning, and nationally the number was greater than 13,000 in 2011. “Every year emergency departments treat thousands of people for carbon monoxide poisoning, and, unfortunately, see people who die from the exposure as well,” he said.
Day 12 – Don’t text and drive
Pull over if you have an urgent need to send someone a text message.
“Unfortunately, this form of distracted driving happens too often and injuries from auto accidents can be devastating,” says Dr. Barbera.  “Keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel.”

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