It’s an early weekend morning, and the dull belly pain and nausea you’ve been feeling since last night hasn’t improved. You wonder whether you should go to the hospital emergency room, and risk having to wait in the lobby for a long time, or just tough it out and visit an urgent care center when it opens.
This is just one of several medical scenarios that we may encounter in our lives. If you are unable to see your primary care doctor, do you go to the emergency room (ER) or urgent care? For life-threatening injuries and emergencies, call 911. But for everything else, what should you do?
“Typically, if your symptoms are mild or moderate — for instance, you have a stuffy nose and head congestion — then an urgent care center could provide you with the care you need,” says Paul Larimore, manager of the Sharp Grossmont Hospital Emergency Department. “But if you are experiencing severe symptoms or symptoms all over your body, such as chest pain, chills and a fever — then it may be best to go to the ER.”
Here is a helpful list to consider when deciding whether to go to the emergency room or an urgent care center:
Go to urgent care if you experience:
- Sprains or strains in your arms or legs
- Broken bones where you don’t see an obvious deformity
- Headaches that are not typical for you
- Minor illnesses, such as sore throat, cough, earache, flu or low-grade fever
- Minor burns or cuts that may need a few stitches
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Low back pain
Go to the emergency room if you experience:
- Chest pain or difficulty breathing
- Severe abdominal pain
- Complex fracture with a bone protruding through the skin
- Significant head injury
- Sudden or severe headaches
- Suspected stroke
- Traumatic injuries from a vehicle accident or fall
- Drug, alcohol or mental health issues
“Of course there are other, nonmedical reasons that can influence someone’s decision to use either the ED (emergency department) or urgent care,” says Larimore. “This can range from health insurance coverage to personal preferences or referrals.”
Save a spot
For those who decide to visit the ER, you can save a spot online by visiting Sharp’s emergency department webpage. Online reservations are intended for those who want to be seen in a timely manner, and who do not have life- or limb-threatening signs or symptoms.
One of the goals of offering online reservations is to reduce the number of patients who may likely walk into the ER during moments of “surge,” or when the ER is experiencing higher than normal patient volumes.
“By being able to reserve a spot ahead of time, patients are not only able to wait in the comfort of their own home, but they don’t have to wait for a long time before being seen because they will be selecting from available times that typically occur during periods of low-patient volume,” says Marguerite Paradis, director of Sharp Grossmont Hospital Emergency Services and Critical Care.
Given the nature and purpose of an ER, staff plan to honor online reservations, while also ensuring that life-threatening and emergent issues are quickly addressed.
“We hope that our patients with non-emergent issues take advantage of the convenience of our online reservation system. Once they arrive for their scheduled time, our goal is to ensure that they are seen by a clinician at that time, provided there are not any life-threatening or serious emergencies that come in,” says Larimore.
Sharp HealthCare’s ER reservations are available for Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, Sharp Coronado Hospital, Sharp Grossmont Hospital and Sharp Memorial Hospital. Sharp Grossmont also offers online reservations for its Care Clinic — for people with nonemergency conditions who still need to be seen immediately, but prefer an alternative to the ER.
“We are hoping that offering online reservations improves our service to the community,” says Paradis. “It is a facet of The Sharp Experience, and is really a great example of creating a health care experience that is both convenient and personalized for all our patients.”