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First Aid (cont.)

When to Go to Urgent Care or Emergency Department

The world has become a confusing place when it comes to accessing medical care. Not every hospital has the same capabilities, and some walk in clinics or urgent care centers are able to care for almost any illness or injury while others cannot. Since emergencies and urgencies aren't planned, it is helpful to know what might be available nearby.

The first place to start is with your primary care physician. They will be able to help construct a plan should an emergency occur. Sometimes they are available to give advice at the time of an injury or illness, and they may be able to see the patient immediately. It's always nice being seen by somebody you know. However, if that is not the case, there are some important things to know before an emergency occurs.

  • Know where the closest hospital is located. Find out its capabilities and whether they match your needs. Your health care professional may be a good resource to ask.
  • There is not necessarily one best hospital. In larger cities, pediatric hospitals may be able to provide some services to children that a general hospital may not have available. There are chest pain designated centers, stroke centers, and trauma centers. However, your closest hospital might be the best to begin with.

Urgent care centers may be freestanding or affiliated with a hospital system. They may or may not be on a hospital campus and are often located in retail, office, or freestanding buildings. Each will have different capabilities and may be staffed with physicians of varying degrees of training, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants. They may have full laboratory, X-ray and CT scanning machines, or minimal diagnostic tests available.

Convenience care or retail clinics are often located in grocery stores or pharmacies and are staffed by experienced nurses who are capable of diagnosing and treating minor ailments like colds, sore throats, and urinary tract infections. If your symptoms and signs require you to get undressed to be examined, this is perhaps not the best place to get care.

Unless you are visiting a hospital that has routinely cared for you and your family, it is important to always carry a list of your medical conditions, a list of your medications, and any allergies.

While travelling, it is wise to have the phone number and address of your primary care physician and your local hospital. Medical records are routinely faxed between hospitals to allow for quality care. It is also advisable to research ahead of time the type of medical care provided where you will be traveling. Hospitals vary from state to state in the United States, and often medical care outside of the United States can be very different from what you are accustomed to. In some countries, patients are required to provide their bedding, pillows, night wear, and hygiene products (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, wash cloths, towels). Planning ahead in case of an emergency is always advisable.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/21/2017

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