What to Do If You Have a Non-Coronavirus Health Emergency

Health Information Relationships

With that said, there are a few major caveats here. Sometimes it’s clear that you should absolutely skip this step because your health issue is too urgent. For example, if you’re dealing with symptoms of a heart attack like chest pain (especially on your left side), extreme fatigue, heartburn, and pain in your back, arms, or jaw, you don’t want to waste precious time calling your primary care doctor for advice—you should go to the emergency room instead. (More on that in a bit.) Beyond that, your primary care office might not be open when you need help. And if you don’t have a primary care doctor, this clearly isn’t an option for you either. That’s one situation where going to an urgent care facility might be helpful.

Urgent care can be good for relatively minor but still pressing health issues.

Generally, urgent care is meant for conditions that require prompt attention but don’t seem life-threatening, Dr. Meyer says: things like strep throat, persistent colds or fevers that won’t respond to treatment, sprains and minor fractures, urinary tract infections, minor burns or allergic reactions, and small cuts that won’t stop bleeding but aren’t quite gushing blood either. Different urgent care clinics will have varying abilities to diagnose and treat different conditions depending on what resources are available on-site, like X-ray and electrocardiogram machines.

Urgent care clinics can come in handy if you don’t have a primary care provider or if your PCP says your health issue requires care they can’t provide. And, the experts note, while urgent care centers aren’t usually open 24 hours like emergency rooms, they do tend to stay open longer than primary care offices, along with often having weekend and holiday hours too. This can be super helpful if your PCP is closed when you need help.

Although urgent care centers take walk-ins by their very nature, it’s still a good idea right now to call ahead if you can. “[Even some] urgent cares are overwhelmed with potential COVID-19 patients,” Dr. Chekijian says. Calling ahead will help you see if they have room for you and how much going to that particular clinic might expose you to COVID-19. You’ll also have a chance to describe your symptoms and ask if they think they’ll be able to help you based on the resources they have.

Go to the emergency room if you feel like your life is in danger for any reason.

Whenever you’re dealing with a health issue that you feel like is potentially life-threatening, you need to go to the emergency room, Dr. Meyer says. Yes, even now, during the pandemic, she adds.

Emergency care is designed for health issues that are severe enough to require immediate and serious attention, Dr. Meyer explains. That means things like heart attacks, strokes, bad physical trauma from something like a fall, head injuries, difficulty breathing, severe bone fractures, deep cuts that may need stitches, appendicitis, and pregnancy-related complications. Here are various signs you should go to the emergency room, but it basically boils down to anything that threatens life or limb. Depending on what exactly is going on, if you or a loved one can call the emergency department before you go or while you’re on your way in, it could be helpful to give a heads up—but don’t feel like you have to take time for this step if you’re in a truly life-threatening situation and it would slow your arrival.

In the past several years, emergency medicine has become “the safety net for a faltering health care system,” with people coming to the emergency room for more routine situations such as coughs, colds, and sore throats, Dr. Chekijian says. Right now, it’s even more important than usual that people not go to the emergency room for this kind of care, she explains. Somewhere like an urgent care clinic would be a better option.



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