When a health issue comes up, it might be hard to know what to do, especially if you or someone you love isn’t feeling well. Your first impulse might be to go straight to the emergency room. However, with the potential for longer wait times, at times unnecessary tests and treatments, plus the possible added exposure to germs, the ER may not be the best option.
Additionally, visiting the emergency room for non-emergency health concerns may result in barriers to building a long-term relationship with a primary care physician (PCP). A PCP can provide preventative care, treat minor illnesses and injuries, connect you to specialists and fully understand your medical history for improved health outcomes.
Urgent care centers may also be a more appropriate and convenient way for you to get non-emergency medical care, if your primary care physician’s office is closed or unable to help with a same-day appointment.
It may be best to ask yourself: “Is it serious?” If there’s a heath issue you can’t control — like catching your breath or bleeding that won’t stop — it’s a good idea to go to the emergency room. Be sure to call 911 if you need immediate help and are unable to drive yourself. Tell a friend or family member your situation as it can be helpful to have someone check up on you later.
If you’re unsure of where to go, remember that it’s usually a good idea to go to the emergency room if:
- You have major burns, cuts or breaks.
- You can’t stop bleeding or catch your breath.
- You lose consciousness or vision.
- You suffer a bite with venom.
- You have a back or neck injury.
Whether it’s going to the ER, urgent care or seeing your primary care physician, to help you get the right care before a possible health issue arises, it’s best to be prepared. Here are three tips to keep in mind:
- Get help to make your choice. Your insurance card may have a nurse line number that you can call. You can also try calling the number for your primary care doctor, who may connect you to a nurse line. Talking to a nurse might help you decide whether to go to an emergency room, urgent care clinic, your primary care physician or a virtual visit.
- Plan your visit. If you have access to a care coordinator or customer service representative for your plan, they might be able to help you figure out when an urgent care clinic or your primary care physician is available. They may even be able to schedule an appointment for you.
- Bring the essentials. Always have your photo ID and insurance card with you, along with a list of the medications you take. A mobile phone can also be helpful to jot down questions you might have — and don’t forget to bring a charger, too.