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 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 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. Whether you need to be seen for an illness that doesn’t need immediate attention or you need 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,” Patricia Newland, MD, a medical director for UnityPoint Health, says. “He or she knows your other chronic medical conditions and medications and how they may impact your illness. It also allows for better continuity and coordination of your care.”
Things you can see your primary care provider for:
When to Use Urgent Care
If health needs come up on the evenings, weekends and holidays, urgent care/express care clinics are available. With walk-in appointments and flexible hours, urgent care/express care 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,” Dr. Newland says.
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:
- Upper respiratory problems
- Sinus infection, sore throat or ear infection
- Minor injuries, including small cuts and burns
- Non-life-threatening allergic reactions
- Minor rash or skin infection
- Bug bites, minor animal or human bites
- Urinary tract infection
When to Use Virtual Care
UnityPoint Health Virtual Care is another care option available to you. Virtual care allows you to see a doctor anytime, anywhere – 24/7, 365 days a year. For $39 or less, you can see a trusted provider through a secure video connection on your laptop, tablet or smartphone to receive treatment for common conditions.
Conditions treatable by virtual care:
- Sinus infection
- Sore throat
- Urinary tract infection
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Pink eye
- Sprains and strains
- Respiratory infection
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Weight concerns
- Smoking cessation
“Virtual care is a newer option and can be 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 the Hospital
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)
- Uncontrolled fever
- Foreign object in the eye
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