Getting Emergency Care When It Is Not Coronavirus-Related
Know when to go to urgent care or emergency room
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, emergency medical situations unrelated to COVID-19 still occur. So, what should you do during this crisis if you need to seek medical care for a condition that you feel simply cannot wait?
While the answer is not always simple, knowing the level of care you need whether it be an emergency room, urgent care or telemedicine — could save your life in a medical emergency and can ensure that you get appropriate treatment while allowing hospitals to make the best use of their available resources.
“I’m concerned that people experiencing life-threatening conditions, such as a heart attack or stroke, are delaying seeking emergency help out of fear of contracting the virus in the hospital or may be worried about adding additional strain to the medical system,” says Ghazala Sharieff, MD, Scripps chief medical officer, clinical excellence and experience. “We want people to know that if you are experiencing a true emergency, we will always be there for you.”
When to go to an emergency room
There are several medical conditions that are considered emergencies — whether related or unrelated to COVID-19 — because they can require rapid or advanced treatments — such as surgery — that are only available in a hospital setting.
Symptoms that are best evaluated in an emergency room include:
Chest pain or difficulty breathing
Weakness/numbness on one side
Fainting/change in mental state
Head or eye injury
Broken bones and dislocated joints
Fever with a rash
Severe cuts that may require stitches
Severe cold or flu symptoms
Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy
“Under no circumstance should you avoid going to an emergency room or calling 911 if you feel that your symptoms are truly serious. Every minute that you delay, the likelihood of you having a worse outcome increases,” says Dr. Sharieff.
If you decide to seek emergency care, you will be screened for COVID-19 before you are allowed into the facility to better identify and isolate those with the virus. Scripps has COVID-19 triage tents set up outside each of its emergency departments at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista and Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego.
When to call 911
Even if it is clear that you or your loved one needs emergency care, you may be unsure whether to drive to an emergency room or call 911.
“When in doubt, call 911. It’s important that you get to the emergency room quickly and safely, especially if you are experiencing severe chest pain or severe bleeding, or if you feel like you might faint or have impaired vision,” says Dr. Sharieff.
For certain medical emergencies, such as a heart attack or stroke, calling 911 for an ambulance is always the right decision. This is because paramedics often can begin delivering life-saving treatment on the way to the hospital.
Emergency Room or Urgent Care
Sometimes, you’ll need to make a judgment call to decide if an injury or illness requires visiting an emergency room or going to an urgent care facility. Urgent care centers are same-day clinics that can handle a variety of medical problems that need to be treated right away, but are not considered true emergencies.
Symptoms that can be evaluated and treated at an urgent care clinic include:
Fever without a rash
Vomiting or persistent diarrhea
Wheezing or shortness of breath
Moderate flu-like symptoms
Sprains and strains
Small cuts that may require stitches
Scripps offers urgent care services for children and adults — seven days a week — in Vista, Rancho Bernardo and Torrey Pines. COVID-19 screening protocols and triage tents have also been implemented at all Scripps urgent care facilities.
Telehealth for non-emergencies
If your symptoms come on gradually or you already know the diagnosis — for example, you have repeat urinary tract infections, or you recognize when your child has come down with an ear infection — it’s worth checking out your virtual care options, and see if you can have a telehealth video visit with your primary care doctor.
Many Scripps HealthExpress walk-in, same-day clinics are still open with weekend and evening hours for in-person or video visits for the most minor of ailments, such as:
They are a good option for when you are not feeling well, but it’s not serious enough for the emergency room or urgent care.
“Telehealth is a safe, convenient and cost-effective option for patients seeking care, especially during a crisis, for conditions that are not potentially life-threatening,” says Dr. Sharieff.
Healthy Life is brought to you by the physicians and staff of Scripps Health. For more information, or for a physician referral, visit www.scripps.org or call 1-800-Scripps.