Where to Get the Care You Need, When You Need It

Empty hospital hallway, knowing where to go for health care

Over the weekend, your husband experiences sharp stomach pain after date night. Or, maybe a sore throat keeps your child awake throughout the night. Your first thought is to get medical care as soon as possible, and the after-hours clinic or closest emergency room may seem like the only options. As you consider whether you need an urgent care vs. emergency room visit, UnityPoint Health wants you to know all the ways you can get the care you need before spending more than you want to — or should.

When to Use Urgent Care

If health needs come up on the evenings, weekends and holidays, urgent care and/or UnityPoint Clinic – Express are available. With walk-in appointments and flexible hours, these clinics are good options when the unexpected happens.

“Urgent care is available during times your primary care doctor may not be, with later and weekend hours. Urgent care can handle injuries and illnesses, but it isn’t a good place to get care for chronic conditions. If you have a UnityPoint Health primary care doctor, our urgent care clinicians will have access to your electronic health record and can communicate information back to your regular doctor,” says Dr. Patricia Newland.

Remember, urgent care/express care should be used for injuries and illnesses that aren’t life threatening but still require fast attention. What you can go to urgent care for:

When to Use Emergency Care

For serious or life-threatening health issues, you need to call 911 or go to the emergency room.  

“The emergency department is an expensive place to receive care and should be utilized for life-threatening injuries and illnesses. When people utilize the emergency department for minor injuries and illnesses, it causes the cost for all of us to go up,” Dr. Newland says.

Reasons to go to the emergency room include:

  • Chest pain or symptoms of heart attack (sweating and shortness of breath)
  • Symptoms of stroke  (sudden dizziness, weakness, loss of coordination, balance and vision problems)
  • Injuries from a car accident
  • Head pain (sudden or severe) or head injury
  • Loss of consciousness (with or without head injury)
  • Severe cuts
  • Open broken bones
  • Abdominal pain (sudden or severe)
  • Choking
  • Poisoning
  • Uncontrolled fever
  • Foreign object in the eye
  • Severe COVID-19 symptoms (trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake)

When to Use Virtual Urgent Care

UnityPoint Clinic Virtual Urgent Care is another care option available to individuals located in Iowa. Virtual urgent care allows anyone over the age of 18 to see a trusted provider through a video visit between 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. Using a secure video connection on your laptop, tablet or smartphone with video access, a doctor can diagnose and prescribe medication for common conditions. You can schedule an appointment by logging into your MyUnityPoint account and selecting "Virtual Urgent Care" from the menu. If you don't have a MyUnintPoint account, creating one is easy

Conditions treatable by virtual care:

When to Use SmartExam

A new, online screening exam for adults 18 years of age and older living in Iowa, SmartExam is a fast and easy way to receive a diagnosis and treatment options in under one hour. Once you fill out a questionnaire based on your symptoms, a provider will look through your information and either send in a prescription for you, or request you're seen by a provider in-person. While insurance is not accepted for SmartExam, it only costs $30 to use. Similar to our virtual urgent care option, SmartExam is best for common ailments and illnesses. 

“Virtual care and SmartExam are two options that offer a convenient way to access care for select minor conditions. Not to mention, it costs a fraction of an emergency room visit,” Dr. Newland says.

Help your family feel better without leaving home. Try virtual care today!

When to Go to Your Primary Care Provider

You can’t guess when you or someone in your family will get sick. But, when things come up during the week, your primary care provider is the best place to start. Many primary care providers offer same-day appointments, too. If there aren't any available appointment times open when you need one, call and ask if another provider on their care team can see you. 

Whether you need to be seen for a health concern or illness or to set up your annual physical, your primary care provider can address all aspects of your care.

“Your primary care doctor knows you best and is probably the best place to go if you are ill. They knows your other chronic medical conditions, medications and how they may impact your illness. It also allows for better continuity and coordination of your care,” says Dr. Newland..

Things you can see your primary care provider for:

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