Emergency Rooms Are Under-Diagnosing Sexually Transmitted Infections


hospital emergency entrance

If you need to get STD testing, you might want to go to urgent care. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, emergency rooms are over-diagnosing urinary tract infections, and in many cases, failing to diagnose the sexually transmitted infections that are actually causing the problems.

In other words, women are being put on antibiotics unnecessarily, and/or being sent home totally unaware that they have an STI.

A UTI begins when bacteria — typically E. coli — enters the urethra and infects part of the urinary tract. UTIs are extremely common, as one in three women will get a UTI at least once in her life. The trouble is that lower-tract UTIs share very similar symptoms to STIs, making telling the difference rather tricky.

One way doctors diagnose UTIs is through a urinalysis, which is able to spot bacteria in the urinary tract. These type of test is instant, unlike the more thorough urine culture test, which takes at least a full day.

Urinalysis, though, is also prone to contamination, and often bears abnormal results. When doctors see these abnormalities, they often assume it’s a UTI, and prescribe an antibiotic. Naturally, this misdiagnosis means that the patients are likely to spread the STD further.

“Providers really rely on this test to make the diagnosis, and it’s really not a very good test,” said lead author Michelle Hecker.

The study, however, did not include data from urgent care facilities. This does not necessarily mean that these healthcare providers aren’t having the same issue, but urgent care does offer some distinct advantages as a healthcare solution. Namely, it’s faster and cheaper than emergency rooms.

According to an Urgent Care Association of America survey, more than half (57%) of patients wait 15 minutes or less to be seen, and about 80% of all visits are 60 minutes or less.

If properly diagnosed, emergency rooms will charge about $665 to treat a UTI, while urgent care facilities will only charge about $110.


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