by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

There are an immense number of things people don't understand about the work I and my team do, but if I had to pick one that causes the most problems, it's the belief, fed and nurtured by medical television, that minor symptoms can exploded into a life-threatening disease process at any moment.

In reality, people who are critically ill almost always look critically ill. It's not subtle. If you are in a lot of pain, or vomiting uncontrollably, or suddenly unable to move half of your body – by all means, come in. We don't expect or want people to diagnose themselves or their families. If it feels like an emergency, let us take a look at you.

But if your sick child is feeling well enough to grab every toy in the toy bin and hurl it across the room, the chance they have anything that won't wait until their PCP can see them on Monday is between small and nonexistent. And if your symptoms would have led your mother to send you to bed and made you soup when you were six, it's probably safe to send yourself to bed when you're forty. And if you show up at the ED instead, I'm not going to run a battery of tests to figure out why you have a sore throat and a fever. I'm going to send you out on your mother's plan, the only difference being the terrifying bill that will follow after.

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