Knowing When to Visit Your Doctor, Urgent Care, or the Emergency Room


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The well developed medical infrastructure in the United States give patients a lot of options for getting care when they need it. You have the choice to be treated by your primary care doctor, a walk in health clinic, or an emergency care facility.

While the medical professionals who provide healthcare at any facility you visit will know how to treat your health concern or get you to a place that can give you the care you need, you should know which type of health service will best suit your needs in your particular circumstances.

When to Visit Your Regular Family Health Clinic
Regular family care physicians are always a good place to start, if your circumstances allow. Your doctor has record and knowledge of your medical history and might have a better grasp of the source of your health issues. If the care you need is outside of your doctor’s field of expertise, they can give your a referral for a specialist that is within their network, so that your doctor and the specialist work together to find a good treatment plan for you. If your medical issue requires hospital care, sometimes your doctor can get you directly admitted, bypassing the delay of triage in the emergency room.

When to Visit a Walk In Health Clinic
A walk in health clinic, or urgent care clinic, is where you should go when you cannot wait to get in to see your doctor, but your issue isn’t an emergency. If your child has an ear infection that is causing them significant discomfort and your gut tells you they need care before your doctor can see them on Monday, it’s a good time to take them to urgent care. If you are experiencing labored breathing (but not to the point of an emergency), you should get to urgent care. In fact, the most common urgent care diagnoses is an upper respiratory infection that impact breathing.

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to go to urgent care if you know you will need a medical service your doctor doesn’t offer, such as x-rays and bone care, or lab services. Many urgent care clinics provide extended medical services that regular primary care physicians do not offer.

Unless your issue is an emergency, going to urgent care is always advisable over the emergency room. In addition to keeping the emergency rooms open for genuine emergencies, your copay at an urgent care clinic will likely be $35 to $55, while emergency rooms will average $784 more. Typically, an emergency room visit takes three hours longer than an urgent care visit.

When to Visit the Emergency Room
You should go directly to the emergency room in the case of life threatening emergencies. If you or the person you are caring for is unable to breath, experiencing chest pains indicative of a heart attack, have heavy bleeding, or symptoms of a stroke (paralysis, inability to talk, walk, or understand when spoken to), you should bypass any other medical channels and go straight to the emergency room. In these cases, it might be a good idea to be transported by ambulance, so that life-saving measures can be administered immediately.

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