Everyone at some point in their life will most likely have to deal with a personal, family or close friend’s medical emergency. Knowing where to go can be very confusing when you are in the midst of dealing with a medical crisis. There are distinct differences between the care an emergency room, an urgent care center and a rehabilitation center provides. Not only can going to the right medical provider save you time and money but, more importantly, it ensures that you or your loved one is getting the best care possible.
When an illness or injury appears out of the blue — for instance,you wake up in the middle of the night with intense pain, or worse, your child does or you stumble and fall while carrying groceries or the baby spikes a high fever over a weekend, or your brother calls because he’s fallen off the wagon and needs help. In all of these scenarios, it’s important to understand the differences of these providers and be able to act quickly if the situation requires it.
Where To Go?
What will you do if your regular doctor’s office is closed when something sudden or traumatic happens? While the answer is not always a simple one, knowing the differences between the care and treatment and the services that these different health care providers are equipped to handle could save your life or someone else’s in a medical emergency.
Urgent care clinics have been around for awhile and, although there were skeptics about their quality of care when they first started in the US, they now help to fill a vital gap in our health care system for those who get sick or injured outside their primary care doctors normal office hours. One simple test is to determine if your symptoms are similar to those you would normally address with your doctor, if so, then an urgent care setting is probably more appropriate than the emergency room.
Hospital Emergency Rooms
Hospital emergency room departments are equipped to provide medical care at any moment and, unlike urgent care centers, they are trained to be prepared for even the most critical and complex situations, and certainly in the most dire of life threatening situations from heart attack and stroke to traumatic injuries following an accident. Medical conditions that are considered emergencies are those that require immediate medical treatment such as surgery and, of course, the more advanced ongoing treatments that are only available in a hospital setting.
Some of the more common symptoms that are best evaluated in an emergency room include:
- Persistent chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Any severe internal pain in the abdomen or halfway down the back
- Sudden clumsiness, loss of balance or fainting
- Sudden difficulty speaking, or trouble understanding speech
- Altered mental status, confusion or suicidal thoughts
- Sudden weakness or paralysis
- Severe heart palpitations
- Sudden, severe headache
- Sudden testicular pain and swelling
- Newborn baby with a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher
- Broken bones or dislocated joints
- Deep cuts that require stitches or an open wound that won’t stop bleeding
- Head or eye injuries
- Severe and persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Serious burns
In an emergency situation you may be hesitant about whether you should drive yourself to the emergency room or call 911. If you are at all in doubt, call 911. It is far better to be alive and a little embarrassed than to find yourself in a life threatening situation and too far from the care you need. You should never drive yourself if you are having severe chest pain or severe bleeding, if you feel like you might faint, or if your vision is impaired.
Call For Help
When in doubt, and particularly for certain medical emergencies such as a heart attack or a stroke, calling 911 for an ambulance is always the right decision. Paramedics and EMT’s are trained to begin delivering life-saving treatment immediately on-site and on the way to the hospital. In the few moments that you sometimes have to make these decisions in what could be a life-threatening situations, what matters most is that you get to the emergency room quickly and safely.
A recent study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics found that 48 percent of the patients who visited an emergency room but did not get admitted to the hospital, went there because their doctor’s office was not open. In many cases, this is because people use their local hospital emergency room as a place to receive after-hours care for minor illnesses or injuries without realizing they have other options such as an urgent care center.
What An Urgent Care Can Do
Urgent care centers can handle a variety of medical problems that need immediate treatment, but are not considered emergencies. Symptoms that can be evaluated and treated at an urgent care clinic include:
- Fever without rash
- Flu symptoms
- Ear pain
- Painful urination
- Persistent diarrhea
- Cold and sore throat relief
- Minor sprain or shallow cut
When symptoms come on gradually or you already have the diagnosis, for example, repeat urinary tract infections, or when your child has come down with yet another ear infection, it’s a best practice to start by calling your primary care doctor’s office to see if you can get a same-day appointment. After all, your primary care doctor knows your health history better than anyone else, and knows what treatments have worked for you from your history. They are also aware of any other medical conditions that you have had or have that need to be taken into consideration for your treatment.
However, while urgent care clinics are not a substitute for your primary care physician, they are a great resource when you need care but can’t get in with your doctor.
Help For Addiction
If your life and relationships are being negatively affected by your own substance use or that of a loved one, you probably have an addiction. Addiction is usually diagnosed but sometimes you don’t need a diagnosis to know you need the help of professional. The criteria for addiction can help you determine if your addiction is mild, moderate or severe. There are eleven criteria total:
- Lack of control
- Desire to quit but unable
- Spending a lot of time trying to get the substance
- Lack of responsibility
- Problems with relationships
- Loss of interest
- Dangerous use
- Worsening situations
Substance Abuse Help
The severity is determined by how many criteria you meet. As an example, if you or a loved one meet 2 to 3 of the criteria, you have a mild substance abuse disorder — even with a mild diagnosis, you should still seek help to get sober. Seeking out a reputable drug rehab will do you far more good than trying to manage the health issues that go along with drinking and substance abuse. Getting to the root of the problem by going through a rehabilitation program will get you started on the road to good health and a better quality of life.
It’s always a best practice to have your medical records handy, but certainly when you are visiting an urgent care clinic or an emergency room you need to bring a list of all the medications you take, including over-the-counter medicine, vitamins and supplements. This list should include how much of each medication you take as well as how often you take it, a list of any allergies, including medications you are allergic to and any previous medical procedures or surgeries you’ve had.
Particularly in an emergency room setting when so much is going on for those who are there to care for you, it can be very helpful for them to know whether you’ve had operations in the past, or whether you’re allergic to medications or anesthesia.
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