Some situations are clearly an emergency: A heart attack, fall off a ladder, serious kitchen burn or bone break. You know to call 9-1-1 and to get your loved one to the nearest emergency department.
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But some health issues are harder to decipher, says Bradford Borden, MD, Chairman of the Emergency Services Institute. “People may not fully understand all their options and the differences between them,” he says. “It’s especially important to know the quickest routes to care when there’s a true emergency.”
In what situations should you get your loved one to an Emergency Department (ED) versus an urgent care center or express care clinic? Here’s a guide to using the options most effectively:
Hospital or Free Standing Emergency Departments
Here’s a list of the types of situations that require such immediate care:
- Loss of consciousness
- Signs of heart attack or stroke, including sudden, severe pain and/or chest discomfort or difficulty breathing
- Uncontrolled or excessive bleeding
- Coughing up or vomiting blood
- Head injury or any major injury
- Severe burns
- Sudden or unexpected paralysis
- Poisoning, suspected poisoning or drug overdose
- Accidents, including falls and car crashes or injuries caused by violence, such as gunshot wounds
- Extreme emotional distress, including suicidal or homicidal feelings
Urgent Care Clinic
An urgent care clinic offers care for an illness or condition that wouldn’t result in further disability or death if not treated immediately; however, the condition does require care within 24 hours in order to avoid further complications.
- Sprains and Strains
- Sore throats
- Rising temperature
- Stomach flu
Express Care Clinic
An express care clinic offers care for common health problems such as:
- Cold and flu symptoms, including sore throat
- Pink eye
- Sinus infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Seasonal allergies
Express Care typically offers night and weekend hours. Some locations also offer care for pediatric patients.
To avoid unnecessary ED trips:
- Learn the signs of true medical emergencies like stroke and heart attack versus less serious symptoms that don’t require an ED.
- Familiarize yourself with other nearby healthcare facilities, such as urgent care centers and express care centers.
Understanding the best way to receive care depending on the condition can help you use the healthcare system more efficiently and effectively.