Sprained ankles were a common occurrence when I was growing up and, occasionally, prompted a visit to the emergency department to confirm the rapid swelling and throbbing pain weren't results of a bone fracture. My time spent in the waiting room was never fun (I would have preferred to be on the couch with an ice pack strapped to my leg watching a Law & Order marathon), and they also used up valuable emergency department resources. Which is why researchers are advocating for hospitals to develop alternative methods to assess and treat lower leg injuries.
In a recent study, a team from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) for 119,815 patients with lower extremity injuries in 2009. In addition, they evaluated year-to-year consistency between 2000 and 2009 to better understand injury trends.
Results showed that strains and sprains accounted for 36 percent of all lower extremity injuries, the most common of which was an ankle sprain. The authors concluded:
Relatively low-acuity lower extremity problems such as strains and sprains account for a substantial prevalence of emergency department visits. Different approaches to triage and evaluation of lower extremity injury might result in better utilization of emergency healthcare resources. For instance, patients with ankle injuries might call an emergency phone number to be triaged for an urgent visit or a scheduled visit during regular business hours based on [orthopedic guidelines] such as the Ottawa ankle rules.
Creating an "ankle hotline," which could be a phone- or online-based system used to assess whether patients require an immediate x-ray or can wait for a schedule appointment, seems like a promising solution for decreasing the strain on overly busy emergency departments. The challenge would be educating patients to use the hotline rather than head immediately to the hospital, like I sometimes did.