Life is uncertain with a constant chance of an unexpected illness or injury. You suddenly double over with abdominal pain while you are brushing your teeth at night. You lose your footing during an early morning jog, and your swollen ankle won’t bear your weight. Or, your toddler wakes from a nap, screaming with a high fever.

When these things happen, the physical discomfort is exacerbated by uncertainty about how to resolve the issue. This is especially problematic when your symptoms are severe and your primary care physician’s office is closed.

Sabrina Coggins, PeaceHealth Interim Nurse Manager, shares her recommendations on when to visit an urgent care facility and when the emergency department is your best choice.

What Is the Role of Urgent Care?

“Urgent care is for any quick visit where you would normally see your primary care doctor. But, for whatever reason, you aren’t able to get into your primary care doctor on short notice,” explains Coggins.

For instance, if you wake up and your eye is red with a lot of discharge, you know that you need medical attention. However, if you can still see and your mind is not alarmed that the situation is life-threatening, head to urgent care.

Turn to PeaceHealth to answer the question “when should I go to urgent care or the emergency room?” Photo courtesy: PeaceHealth

Other common reasons to visit urgent care include a bloody nose, ear pain, cold and flu symptoms, animal bites, infections, mild asthma, and screening for sexually transmitted infections.

This is also true for minor injuries, like jammed toes, lacerations, sprains, and even fractures that may need a cast. Most urgent care centers, including PeaceHealth, have X-rays in the facility and can set bones until you have a chance to follow-up with a specialist.

What Is the Role of the Emergency Department?

An emergency department is available round-the-clock to provide medical care, but unlike urgent care, they are staffed and equipped for critical and complicated situations. In life- and limb- threatening circumstances, the emergency department is the best option.

“If at any time your internal alarm goes off that this is bad and this needs to be fixed right now, that’s a reason to come to the emergency department,” says Coggins.

The emergency department is often the best recourse when you are dealing with severe chest pain, sudden vision changes, intense diarrhea or vomiting, seizures, head injuries, severe burns, overdoses, and other circumstances that require immediate, specialized treatment, including immediate surgery.

How Do You Determine When to Go to Urgent Care or the Emergency Department?

Coggins says the answer to this question hinges on your understanding of the danger involved, and PeaceHealth likes to support patients.

Urgent care is an option when you need medical care but are unable to see your doctor on short notice. Photo courtesy: PeaceHealth

“It all boils down to a person’s perceptions of what is an emergency. We want to support all of our community,” Coggins asserts. “If a patient feel it’s an emergency, then it’s an emergency if they come to us.”

But, patients are urged to take some time and consider their situation carefully. If the issue is one that could be treated by your primary care physician, then urgent care is the best choice. If there is a clear and immediate danger, the emergency department is the better choice.

How Is PeaceHealth Cutting Down Wait Times?

PeaceHealth’s primary care physicians are making efforts to be more available to patients by leaving appointment blocks open for last minute and same-day appointments.

“If it’s not an emergency or you don’t think your life is threatened, give your doctor a call and give them the opportunity to help you,” Coggins suggests. “They already know you. If they can get you in, it costs less and you have someone who already is caring for you and following the problems that you may or may not have on a continuing basis.”

An emergency department is available round-the-clock to provide medical care, but unlike urgent care, they are staffed and equipped for critical and complicated situations. Photo courtesy: PeaceHealth

PeaceHealth puts a lot of effort into making health care convenient for patients. Their online portal delivers on their promise to be focused on patients. PeaceHealth knows patients will go where it is most convenient, which is why they try to stem the flow into urgent care by helping patients get same-day appointments with their primary care physician. Barring that, urgent care is an option.

And, PeaceHealth urgent care is further increasing convenience by decreasing length of stay, allowing them to see more patients.

“We are meeting the expectation that you aren’t going to come to urgent care and spend all day with us,” Coggins explains. “We want to really get you feeling better and get you back out to enjoy the day, to live your life.”

The emergency department is also working on length of stay and doing their best not to experience a bottleneck in the face of crisis.

“A lot of times, in the emergency department, we respond to the sickest patients. That’s what we do naturally. And then the less sick patients, even though they may think they are very sick aren’t as sick as the patient that just walked through the door. We are looking at that and making different pathways through our emergency department so that nothing stalls out because we have one or two severely ill people.”

PeaceHealth primary care physicians often have same-day appointments available. Photo courtesy: PeaceHealth

PeaceHealth knows that no one wants to spend seven hours in a waiting area when they are sick or injured, so they are constantly re-evaluating their services and improving them. They listen to patients, address their problems, and create a plan that will improve overall health, wellness, and comfort in a timely fashion. And, this happens at every level, from primary care to the emergency department.

To find a PeaceHealth doctor, click here.

PeaceHealth Southwest Urgent Care
3400 Main Street
Vancouver, WA 98663
Open: Monday – Friday from 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday from 7:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

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