Whenever an illness or injury occurs, you need to decide how serious it is and how soon to get medical care. This will help you choose whether it is best to call your doctor, go to an urgent care clinic, or go to an emergency department right away.
It pays to think about the right place to go. Treatment in an emergency department can cost 2 - 3 times more than the same care in your doctor’s office. Think about this and the other issues listed below when deciding.
How quickly do you need care? If a person or unborn baby could die or be permanently disabled, it is an emergency.
Call 911 to have the emergency team come to you right away if you cannot wait, such as for:
Go to an emergency department or call 911 for help for problems such as:
When you have a problem, do not wait too long to get medical care. If your problem is not life threatening or risking disability, but you are concerned and you cannot see your doctor soon enough, go to an urgent care clinic.
The kinds of problems an urgent care clinic can deal with include:
If you are not sure what to do, and you don’t have one of the serious conditions listed above, call your doctor. If the office is not open, your phone call will be forwarded to someone. Describe your symptoms to the doctor who answers your call, and find out what you should do.
Your doctor or health insurance company may also offer a nurse telephone advice hotline. Call this number and tell the nurse your symptoms for advice on what to do.
Before you have a medical problem, learn what your choices are. Check the website of your health insurance company. Put these telephone numbers in the memory of your phone:
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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