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Tips to know where to go for care

| Healthy You | Safety | Wellness | Infographics

Know where to go for care

Here’s a guide for matching your needs to a clinic or hospital.

If you’re sick or injured, going to the right place for the right care can help you feel better faster. But how do you decide where to go?

"Your primary care provider (PCP) can take care of most of your health needs through regular check-ups or same-day visits," says Simon Lai, MD. "If you need a higher level of care right away, that’s when to consider urgent or emergency care."

Where you seek care will also depend on who needs the care. Is the person you’re taking to the visit a newborn with a high fever or an 85-year-old with a heart condition? 

"If you can, talk with your PCP or pediatrician about what to do in urgent situations for people with special needs," notes Dr. Lai. You may also call your provider’s office and ask to talk to a triage nurse for advice.

Here’s a general guide for matching the type of service best suited to your needs:

Primary care — for conditions that need preventive or ongoing care and are not life-threatening

In general, if you have a primary care provider, think of your PCP first. The only time this doesn’t apply is if your illness or injury can’t wait. Then seek care from an open clinic or hospital near you.

Why primary care first? Because your primary care provider’s office knows you and your health history. They handle a wide variety of concerns. For services they don’t offer, your PCP office can help you find other doctors or places that provide what you need. They may help smooth the way for you to be seen sooner. It also usually costs you less to see a PCP than the emergency room (ER).

Call the PCP office to make an appointment. You might also be able to make your request online through the patient portal, My PeaceHealth. You can also use the portal to send a message your doctor, view test results and request prescription refills, among other things.

Seek care from your primary care provider for things such as:
•    Allergies
•    Annual checkups 
•    Colds, flu, fever
•    Immunizations
•    Sports physicals

These are just a few of the concerns that can be treated at a primary care clinic.

Same-Day care — for general illnesses and minor injuries that need prompt attention

If your primary care clinic is closed or can’t see you right away, a same-day clinic is a good choice.

Same-day clinics provide many of the same services as primary care clinics. They are often open evenings, weekends and even some holidays. You may be able to make an appointment for the same day or drop in without an appointment.

Seek care at a same-day clinic for things such as:
•    Asthma attacks
•    Minor burns or cuts
•    Sinus or ear infections

These are just a few of the concerns that can be treated at a same-day clinic.

As with PCP visits, same-day care costs less than ER care.

Urgent care — for conditions that need immediate care but are not life-threatening

Urgent care clinics are usually open evenings, weekends and even some holidays. 

Depending on the clinic, you may or may not need an appointment. 

Oftentimes, urgent care locations include X-ray, lab and other services that help doctors diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses.

Seek care at an urgent care clinic for things such as:
•    Asthma attacks
•    Moderate burns or cuts
•    Sprains or breaks of hands, arms, toes, feet 
•    Urinary tract infections with fever and low-back pain

These are just a few of the concerns that can be treated at an urgent care clinic.

As with PCP and same-day care, urgent care visits cost less than ER care.

Emergency care — for conditions that are life- or limb-threatening 

For serious or severe illnesses or injuries, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911. 

The ER is the right place for conditions that require immediate treatment or immediate results from imaging or testing.

Keep in mind that if someone with a more serious, life-threatening condition arrives after you, they may see the doctor sooner than you.

Seek care at the ER for things such as:
•    Chest pain
•    Difficulty breathing
•    Head and eye injuries
•    Breaks of legs, hips, shoulders, head/skull, neck or back
•    Severe bleeding
•    Sudden blurred vision or sight loss

Emergency care usually costs more than any other kind of care, but it’s worth it if it means saving a life or the chance for full recovery. 

When in doubt, don't delay care. If someone is having a medical emergency, call 911 or seek medical attention right away.

Infographic describing the difference between Primary Care (not life threatening), Same-Day Care (minor injuries that need prompt attention), Urgent Care (need immediate care, but are not life threatening), and Emergency Care (life or limb threatening).
portrait of Simon T. Lai MD

Simon T. Lai MD

Family Medicine
Simon Lai, MD, has wanted to help people with their health since he was three years old. That inspired him to become a family medicine doctor so he could partner with people in meeting their personal health goals. Now, Dr. Lai helps entire communities through his role as medical director of PeaceHealth primary care services. His work focuses on improving care and making sure people get the care they need, when they need it. In addition to his administrative duties, Dr. Lai continues to care for newborns who are admitted to the hospital – a personal passion of his. Away from work, he likes to cook and spend time with his wife and four children.