When to Go Where for Fast Medical Care

KW013WebAs kids go back to school they will be learning about new resources and how to use them. Just like students, you can spend a moment to familiarize yourself with your local health care resources.

One relatively new health care resource is ExpressCare. It opened in February 2015 and offers care on weekends and holidays, when doctor’s offices are closed. And ExpressCare is a great place to go when you need an appointment on the same day, but your primary care provider is already booked.

For these reasons, ExpressCare is sometimes confused with the Emergency Department. While both offer board-certified care outside regular doctor’s hours, neither is the right place for every kind of health issue. Knowing where to head for treatment could save your life in a medical emergency.

Here are a few tips for deciding where to go:

If your condition isn’t life threatening but needs to be taken care of, think ExpressCare.

Open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and with no appointment required, ExpressCare is ideal for:

• Cough, cold and flu symptoms

• Dizziness (No vision or speech change, numbness, or weakness.)

• Earaches, sore throats, sinus symptoms

• Fractures

• Head injury without symptoms (No concussions.)

• Mild abdominal pain above the belly button

• Mild allergic reaction (No facial or throat swelling, near fainting, shortness of breath, or chest pain.)

• Mild chest pain in those younger than 40

• Mild or moderate headache

• Mild or moderate pain

• Mild shortness of breath or wheezing

• Minor eye injuries, infections, or irritation, including pink eye

• Minor trauma: lacerations, burns, strains, and sprains

• Rashes, stings, and bites

• Urinary tract infections

If your condition is severe or potentially life-threatening, head to the Emergency Department. Like most Emergency Departments, it is open 24 hours, seven days a week. The Emergency Department has the widest range of services for emergency after-hours care, including diagnostic tests and access to specialists.

Symptoms that warrant an immediate visit to the Emergency Department include:

• Difficulty speaking

• Fainting or near fainting

• Head injury with symptoms

• Kidney stone evaluation

• Moderate or severe allergic reaction, which may include facial swelling, fainting, near fainting, shortness of breath, or chest pain.

• Moderate or severe abdominal pain or pain in lower abdomen

• Moderate-to-severe chest pain, any chest pain in those over 40, or chest pain with symptoms like shortness of breath, sweating, and nausea at any age

• Moderate or severe wheezing or shortness of breath

• New numbness or weakness of arms, legs, or face on one side or both

• Poisoning or overdose

• Racing or skipping heart

• Severe dizziness or dizziness with vision change, numbness, or weakness

• Severe headache or a headache that is unusual for you

• Severe pain

• Thoughts of suicide

• Major trauma, like a major cut, burn or fracture

• Vision loss

It’s important to note that if you arrive at the Emergency Department with a health issue that is not a true emergency, you may experience a long wait-time while others with more pressing needs are seen to. In addition, the cost for care in the Emergency Department can be significantly more expensive than care provided at ExpressCare or your regular physician’s office.

The good news is that when it comes to getting care you have options. Use your best judgment on deciding where to go for care. But please remember, if you have a true emergency, such as a stroke or heart attack, don’t hesitate to call 911. In many instances, paramedics can begin important and life-saving treatments on the way to the hospital.

Mark J. Zimpfer, MD, is the medical director for SVMC ExpressCare and an emergency physician at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. “Health Matters” is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.