It’s Saturday night and your throat feels fiercely sore. You can breathe but feel incredibly uncomfortable. What do you do?
You’re playing soccer with some friends on Tuesday evening. You trip and hurt your ankle. A few hours later it’s swollen and bruised. Where do you go?
While skateboarding Sunday morning your daughter falls and cuts her arm. Who do you call?
When you or someone you love needs medical care, it’s important to know your options. An emergency room is certainly equipped to handle anything, but is it your best choice? Deciding whether to go to the ER or urgent care clinic or to call your doctor is an especially tough question to answer during an emergency.
“The key is finding the right level of care that will address your particular problem as efficiently as possible and meet all your needs, all while generating the lowest possible impact to your pocketbook,” says Dr. Stephen Cohen, president of Lifetime Health Medical Group.
Urgent care centers are equipped to do what your primary care physician can do. These centers serve as a good option if you don’t have a regular doctor or if you’re traveling. Remember, even if you’re out of town, you can still call your doctor.
“Urgent care centers have filled the gap between what your primary care physician can provide and your immediate needs. These centers serve an important component in the continuum of care,” Cohen says.
While a hospital emergency department can take on any case, it is the most expensive and time-consuming option. Co-pays for ER visits are dramatically higher. If you have a minor injury or illness, you’ll also wait a while because patients are seen in the order of severity. Save ER visits for serious, life-threatening and time-sensitive situations such as strokes, heart attacks, serious injuries or an inability to breathe.
Call Your Doc
If something happens that is not a life-or-death situation, start by calling your doctor. “We want to help our patients in all their care needs,” Cohen says. “That’s a 24/7 responsibility.”
Your physician can provide advice for your treatment of most of the common ailments—respiratory infections, skin rashes, bladder infections, flu-like symptoms, cuts and scrapes, strains and sprains. Depending on your situation, you may be advised to go to the office or an urgent care center.