Emergency care or urgent care?

A pa­tient needs to know the dif­fer­ence between routine, ur­gent and emer­gency care.

Routine care is the norm with sched­uled vis­its that a pa­tient needs to main­tain his or her health status. Sick vis­its such as sore throats, bron­chit­is, etc. that can be provided in the primary care of­fice in a timely fash­ion can also be con­sidered routine. However, if your primary care pro­vider is un­avail­able in the of­fice, that same vis­it can be an ur­gent care vis­it. 

Ur­gent care is a sud­den ill­ness or in­jury that is not life threat­en­ing. Oth­er ex­amples of ur­gent care in­clude eye in­fec­tions, cuts, skin in­fec­tions, si­nus in­fec­tions, sprains and minor frac­tures. An emer­gency is a med­ic­al or men­tal health con­di­tion that in the ab­sence of im­me­di­ate med­ic­al at­ten­tion could res­ult in ser­i­ous med­ic­al con­sequences or place one’s health in ser­i­ous jeop­ardy. Ex­amples of a med­ic­al emer­gency in­clude severe chest pain and/or short­ness of breath.

If you be­lieve that you have a life-threat­en­ing situ­ation, you should im­me­di­ately go to the emer­gency room or call 911. With a true emer­gency, you do not need ap­prov­al from your in­sur­ance com­pany or your primary care phys­i­cian.

If you have an ur­gent care prob­lem, you should al­ways con­tact your primary care pro­vider and ex­plain your prob­lem. If your primary care pro­vider is not avail­able or is un­able to ac­com­mod­ate your ur­gent is­sue, an ur­gent care cen­ter is usu­ally the next-best op­tion. Ur­gent care cen­ters usu­ally have much short­er wait­ing times versus emer­gency rooms, which can of­ten take six hours or longer for ur­gent is­sues. Your prob­lem can be placed be­hind a ma­jor trauma or a car­di­ac is­sue that has to be treated first. 

The co-pays for an ur­gent care vis­it are less costly than an emer­gency room vis­it, where your minor is­sue may di­vert needed staff from more ser­i­ous prob­lems. Ur­gent care cen­ters usu­ally are open on week­ends and have ex­ten­ded week­day hours. When in doubt, call your primary care phys­i­cian. He or she knows more med­ic­al con­di­tions and your per­son­al health his­tory and can bet­ter as­sess wheth­er you need to go to the emer­gency room, go to an ur­gent care cen­ter or make a primary care ap­point­ment. The costs in­volved can be found in your health in­sur­ance be­ne­fits de­scrip­tion ma­ter­i­als, along with a more de­tailed de­scrip­tion of what con­sti­tutes emer­gency ser­vices for the pur­pose of cov­er­age.

After an emer­gency vis­it or, in many cases, after an ur­gent care vis­it, you should fol­low up with your primary care pro­vider to make sure your prob­lem is re­solved. ••

Joseph Pon­gonis, D.O., prac­tices fam­ily medi­cine with EPIC Phys­i­cians, 8019 Frank­ford Ave. in Holmes­burg, 215-332-1300.

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