You’re feeling short of breath, and your chest hurts. Is it OK to stop by the urgent care clinic?
Your child twisted her ankle and is crying from the pain. Does she need to go to the emergency department?
Your elderly father is feeling achy and has a fever on the weekend. Can it wait until his primary care provider opens on Monday?
If you feel uncertain about the answers to these common circumstances, you’re not alone. Portlanders have—happily enough—many options for getting treatment and getting it fast. Having choices is great, but they also come with confusion where healthcare is concerned.
“It’s not always about getting immediate care,” says Derek Meyer, a physician at Adventist Health’s Urgent Care location on the corner of 122nd and Halsey in Portland opening September 7. “It’s about getting the right care in the right location at the right time.”
Knowing where to get the care you need can save you time and money. Primary and urgent care appointments cost a fraction of what a visit to the emergency department costs. And because the top priorities at the ED are life-threatening conditions, you may have to wait much longer for care if you arrive with a simple cold or sore throat.
Three Levels of Care
To know what the “right location” is, you need to know what kind of care is provided in what kind of setting.
Emergency Department: Emergency departments—also called emergency rooms or ERs—are intended for severe and life-threatening injuries and conditions. Adventist Medical Center’s ER is open 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Our southeast Portland emergency department is staffed and equipped to care for the most critical conditions where your life or permanent disability is threatened. Because of this advanced level of treatment, ED visits are much more costly than urgent care or primary care.
Urgent Care: Adventist Health’s Portland-area urgent care clinics are a great way for you to be seen quickly for less critical conditions and illnesses that still need to be cared for unexpectedly. Urgent care centers typically take patients on a walk-in basis and are open longer hours than most physicians’ offices. Adventist Health’s Rockwood, Sandy and Parkrose urgent care clinics have lab and imaging services on-site to help you get your diagnosis and treatment quickly. You may be sent to the ED if your urgent care provider thinks it is necessary.
Primary Care: Primary care visits are the most affordable option, and they are most appropriate for ongoing medical conditions, routine illnesses, annual physicals and other concerns that can be addressed when your primary care provider has an appointment open. Adventist Health’s primary care clinics make a point of keeping some appointments available for last-minute illnesses or other urgent matters.
Check Your Symptoms, Trust Your Instincts
So how can you tell which level of care you need? The general rule is to check your symptoms. Signs you need to head to the ER include:
- Heavy bleeding
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Chest pain or chest heaviness, especially if you’re sweating, vomiting, struggling to breathe or experiencing pain in your arm or jaw
- Sudden changes in balance, speech and/or mental state
- Severely broken bones (such as through the skin) or dislocations
- Loss of consciousness or head injury
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
For urgent but less serious conditions, urgent care might be the better option. Urgent care may be appropriate for symptoms like:
- Cuts that require stitches or small burns
- Minor fractures (not through the skin), strains and sprains
- Cold or flu symptoms, including cough, sore throat or earache
- Rash, allergic reaction without difficulty breathing
When you have symptoms that can be addressed in a day or two or when you’re dealing with a chronic condition, your best bet is your primary care provider. Because of your personal relationship with your doctor, he or she will be better able to look at your overall health picture and help you formulate a plan to get over a short-term illness or injury quickly or improve your ongoing condition one day at a time.
“Most of all, trust your instincts,” says Dr. Meyer. “Our top goal is for you to be safe and healthy.”
Make an Emergency Plan Today
Today is the best time to learn the differences between these types of care, so you’re ready in case of an emergency or urgent situation. Also check with your primary care provider to find out if your particular health history suggests specific symptoms you should take extra care to have evaluated as swiftly as possible.
As you make your plan, take note of where your nearest ER is. Find out where you can get to an urgent care clinic and what hours and days it is open.
And be sure to establish a relationship with a primary care provider so you can partner with a professional to take charge of your health—and help avoid emergencies before they arise.
Author: LivingWell PDX Blog
Adventist Health is committed to creating a healthier Portland community.