When to Visit the ER, Urgent Care, or Primary Care Provider
If you’ve ever wondered whether to go to an emergency department (or ER), an urgent care, or your primary care provider, you’re not alone. The combination of the COVID-19 surge, flu season and the national staffing crisis has created long waits in many ERs and some urgent care centers are no longer taking walk-in appointments.
In order to make an informed decision about what location is the right place to go, it is important to listen to your body and assess the severity of your symptoms. Many mild illnesses and injuries can be managed without an emergency department visit.
If you are worried that you might have COVID-19 (or the flu), are generally healthy, and are experiencing mild symptoms (such as a low-grade temperature, aches and pains, a mild cough, etc.) it’s commonly recommended to rest, drink plenty of fluids, take over-the-counter medications like Tylenol or Motrin, if needed, and monitor your symptoms at home. It is critically important that you isolate and stay home until your symptoms are gone so that you avoid infecting other people.
If your symptoms aren’t improving over time or worsen, and you feel you need to be seen by a doctor, calling your primary care physician is a good place to start. Crozer Health Medical Group primary care physicians are offering virtual visits in addition to in-person appointments and can assess you over the phone or video call.
For more immediate concerns or after-hours care, a trip to an urgent care center can be a great solution. Unless it’s a real emergency, urgent care is often a better use of a patient’s time and financial resources. For most insurance, a visit to urgent care costs less than a traditional ER visit, and many are open seven days a week with significantly shorter wait times than the ER.
There are also several specialty urgent care centers locally that focus on urgent care treatment for orthopedics or pediatrics. Urgent care providers can prescribe medications and recommend a higher level of care, if needed.
If you think you have an emergency (such as chest pain, weakness, confusion, severe pain, a high fever that doesn’t respond to medication, other severe symptoms, or a serious injury), then you should go to the closest emergency department or call 911. If you are worried that you might be having a stroke or a heart attack, you should call 911 immediately.
The list below can help provide additional clarification on when you should go to the ER, an urgent care clinic, or call your primary care provider’s office.
When to Go to a Hospital Emergency Room
Head to the ER or call 911 to have the following symptoms evaluated and treated:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Stroke symptoms
- Head injuries
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Severe allergic reaction
- Burns (moderate to severe)
- Broken bones
- Severe abdominal pain
- Suicidal or homicidal tendencies
- Possible drug overdose
- A change in mental status or loss of consciousness
- Sudden, severe headache, or paralysis or weakness
- Uncontrolled bleeding
Always call 911 and don't drive yourself to the Emergency Department if you are having difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, chest pain, or other signs of stroke or heart attack.
When to Go to an Urgent Care
Urgent care centers can evaluate and treat:
- Back or muscle pain
- Cuts and minor burns
- Diarrhea and dehydration
- Minor accidents of falls
- Pink eye
- Fevers and colds
- Sprains or strains
- Upper respiratory infection
- Urinary tract infections and pain with urination
- Animal or insect bites
If the urgent care provider thinks you need a higher level of care, they will let you know.
When to go to a Primary Care Provider
Your primary care physician knows your medical history and conditions you have had in the past. They are your home base for illness or chronic conditions and provide preventive and general health care, as well as helping you navigate specialists and the health care system. If you’ve had a nagging illness, cough, or sore throat for a few days, it may be time to visit your PCP (in person or via telehealth).
Contact your primary care physician for the following kinds of symptoms and conditions:
- Lingering illness including cold and flu
- Infections such as pink eye, ear pain, and sore throat
- Minor injuries like sprains, bumps, and bruises
- Skin problems
- Urinary tract infections
- Chronic conditions (high blood pressure, COPD, diabetes, arthritis, etc.)
- Prescriptions (refills)
- Referral to specialists – Your primary care doctor can send you to a specialist for your specific needs. Some insurances require a referral to a specialist.
Crozer Health Medical Group Primary Care has convenient locations across Delaware County. With more than 100 PCPs at over 30 practices throughout the area, our providers are here to help you manage your care both in person or by telehealth, including phone and video calls. Some questions can be handled over the phone or by e-mail via the secure Crozer Health Health+Link patient portal, without requiring you to make an appointment or come into the office.
Remember to seek treatment and call 911 (and don't drive yourself to the ER) if you are having difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, a life or limb injury, or signs of stroke or heart attack.