Healthier Together: When to go to urgent care clinics vs. emergency room


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In this week's Healthier Together, Regence BlueShield shares advice and tips on when to go to your local urgent care clinic, and how to be prepared to take advantage of this medical service for you and your family.

"Whenever we have an injury or an illness, and we think we need to be seen, you know, pretty quickly, the first instinct is to think about an emergency room or an ER. But actually, there are several other options of places that you can be seen to deal with more minor non life-threatening emergencies," said Dr. Nicole Saint Clair, Executive Medical Director, Regence BlueShield. "These include your primary care provider's office, especially if they have extended hours. We have urgent care clinics, we have telehealth options, which can include telephone, online or app based services.

Dr. Saint Clair said it's important to know when to go to the ER and when to use an urgent care clinic.

"In general, if you're experiencing what you think is a life-threatening severe injury or illness, the ER is always the best place to go. But so often we have problems or conditions that aren't clearly life-threatening. And that's where an urgent care can come into play. Urgent Care, clinics are able to evaluate you, they can check your vital signs, they can also run lab tests, oftentimes, they can do imaging tests. If you have a cough, and you need a chest X-ray that can happen there. ERs tend to be overused."

Overcrowding ERs can be dangerous for everyone.

"We know that about a third of people who go into an ER right now don't have a condition that really requires that level of care that highest most severe emergency level of care that an ER can provide. And we know that about 14% of people have no primary care provider and see the ER as their only and main source of health care, said Dr. Saint Clair. "So the Advent and the and the increase in urgent cares really are to try to help be more convenient and allow us to treat these conditions and save the emergency room for the really severe, most urgent needs."


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"The best plan is preparation and having a general idea of what resources are available to you. So hopefully this discussion would prompt you to talk to your primary care provider, look at your health plan and get a sense of where are the care locations near you. Where are their emergency rooms? And where are their urgent cares? How do those urgent cares work?" said Dr. Saint Clair. "Can you schedule an appointment pretty easily? Can you walk in? Do they provide services for children under 12? Under 6?

Dr. Dr. Saint Clair said in the last several years we've seen an increase in the variety of different places that you can receive care.

"With the addition of more telehealth providers and new alternative different types of clinics sites popping up, it can sometimes feel overwhelming," she said. "But overall, all of the variety in these choices are ultimately to our benefit to give us more options and more ability to find the right fit. When in doubt. It's best to just remember that there are resources available, do a little bit of pre-planning. Take advantage of the resources that your provider and your health plan are offering to you to be able to figure out where's the best place for you and your family."

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