Patients have more choices than ever of where to go for medical care: your doctor’s office, the hospital Emergency Department, an urgent care clinic or a new option in many areas—a same-day or walk-in clinic.
Hans Notenboom, MD, is in a unique position to help you sort through these options. He's a physician lead of PeaceHealth urgent care clinics in Oregon and also served for a decade as medical director of PeaceHealth Emergency Departments in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon.
Following are Dr. Notenbloom's tips and an infographic to help you understand the pros and cons of each setting for your care.
In general, trust your instincts about calling 911 or heading straight to the ED. Most people intuitively know when an injury or illness is very serious or potentially life-threatening. Some examples are severe burns, serious lacerations, or sudden blurred vision, dizziness, weakness or loss of coordination or balance.
The ED also is the appropriate destination if you have symptoms like chest pain, difficulty breathing, or severe abdominal pain that may require an extensive work-up-- lab tests and imaging--in a short period of time.
Something else to keep in mind when deciding where to take someone with a serious medical issue is the patient’s age and overall health. For example, infants under three months old – especially those with a fever--should be treated at the ED.
Of course, if serious illness or injury happens late at night or very early in the morning, the ED may be your only option because it’s the only medical facility that’s open.
Now that we’re clear on where to go in life-threatening situations, what about non-life-threatening situations?
Primary Care Provider
Building a relationship with your primary care provider is essential to good health and your primary care provider should always be your first stop for physicals, prescription refills, vaccinations and screenings. Also go to your primary care provider for any ongoing medical issues like chronic pain, high blood pressure or diabetes. Seeing the same person is really important to staying on the same path in treating a chronic condition. Your primary care provider sees you over time, so he or she has a broader picture of how things are progressing or not progressing.
Urgent Care or Same-Day Clinics
By their very nature, urgent care and same-day care clinics provide episodic care, not the ongoing care you get from your primary care provider. But there may be times when your regular provider isn’t available, and you’d like to see someone immediately for a common illness like a cold, flu, ear infection or rash, or a minor injury like a burn, cut or sprain. In those cases, an urgent care or same-day clinic can help.
A major difference oftentimes between urgent care clinics and same-day clinics is that some urgent care clinics offer X-rays while most same-day clinics do not. An urgent care would be an appropriate place to go to have an X-ray for a possible broken bone. Many urgent care clinics are open long hours, seven days a week, including major holidays, like Christmas Eve and Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
One final tip: If you’re a PeaceHealth patient, you’re doing your providers a big favor when you stick with PeaceHealth hospitals and clinics. The electronic medical records at all PeaceHealth facilities are linked, so it’s easier for the provider to see your complete medical record and make a plan based on the whole picture, rather than trying to solve a puzzle when some of the important pieces are missing.