UW Health urgent care, ER wait times growing amid influx of patients with respiratory illnesses

MADISON, Wis. — Emergency departments and urgent care units in the Madison area are seeing long wait times due to an influx of patients who’ve contracted various respiratory illnesses.

Officials with UW Health said Tuesday that while they’re able to meet the community’s needs, but want to make sure each patient is being seen at the proper time.

“Unlike most of our lives, where it’s kind of first-come, first-served, emergency departments don’t work like that,” UW Health’s Chief Quality Officer Jeff Pothof said. “They serve those who are in the most need first and then eventually we see everyone else. Lots of times to facilitate people being seen faster, we have a physician in that triage role.”

Cases of various respiratory illnesses — in particular RSV — have started climbing especially soon this season, which has prompted the spike in emergency room and urgent care visits by patients who are concerned about their health.

RELATED: RSV cases continue surging through Wisconsin

UW Health experts said most cold symptoms can usually be managed at home; if a patient thinks they need to see a doctor, Pothof recommends contacting your primary care provider or sending a message to them via MyChart. Local pharmacists can also help any patients find over-the-counter treatment for most common viral infections.

When it comes to COVID and the flu, Pothof said people should get their flu and COVID shots to avoid infection in the first place. Any parents who think their child may have contracted RSV should first call their pediatrician to find advice for at-home treatment as most cases don’t require hospitalization.

“They typically do really well at home. Not a large percentage of folks with RSV need to get admitted,” Pothof said. “It’s just we’re seeing so many RSV cases, that’s why you’re hearing about children’s hospitals having a lot of admissions for RSV, but it’s not to mean that RSV is suddenly more dangerous or worse than it’s been in the past.”

If a child is struggling to breathe, though, parents should seek immediate care. Anyone who is having a medical emergency — UW Health experts stressed — should not hesitate to go to the emergency room.