Choosing between urgent care or a trip to the ER
By Margi Hoover Special to The Review
The following column is an interactive question-and-answer feature appearing the first Wednesday of each month. Readers are encouraged to send health-related questions that will be answered by a local medical professional to firstname.lastname@example.org. Today's question below is being answered by Margi Hoover, director of urgent care and after hours facilities for Alliance Community Hospital. She oversees ACH's three urgent/family care facilities.
Q. I recently fell on an uneven sidewalk here in Alliance and landed on my wrist. It hurt, but I wasn't sure if it was broken. I ended up going to the emergency room, where I was treated well and it was diagnosed as a sprain. In retrospect, should I have gone to an urgent care center (it happened during the day) instead of the ER? -- Eileen L. of Alliance
A. This is a good question, whether it happens in Alliance or anywhere else. The issue here is having a game plan and educating yourself ahead of time as to the best course of action.
In this case, you were obviously in pain and coherent enough to make a decision and get yourself to the emergency room. The fact that it was just a sprain should not make you feel like you made a bad decision. Among the things you need to consider is the severity of the injury or illness and the urgency of the situation. Since you were in obvious pain and thought something was broken, the emergency room made sense and I am glad to hear you had a good experience there.
Could you have chosen an urgent care center? In retrospect, yes. Most urgent care centers are there to take care of patients for less traumatic situations and have X-ray and a lab available during extended hours. In either case, once treated in an urgent care or emergency room, follow-up with your primary care physician is advised.
Also, as a rule of thumb, if you sense that you have an emergency on your hand, call 911.
There are certain guidelines that have been established to help patients make choices between urgent care centers and emergency rooms. Among them:
Urgent Care: Coughs, colds, sore throat, earaches, body aches, sinus infections, muscle aches, rashes, cuts, nausea, animal bites, eye and ear irritation, urinary tract infections.
Emergency Room: Uncontrolled bleeding, sudden numbness or speech difficulty, severe shortness of breath, sudden severe chest pain or pressure, poisoning, vomiting blood, sudden severe abdominal pain.
This is by no means a complete list of possible symptoms, but the pattern suggests that the choice is based on the severity of the trauma.
Here in our area, in addition to the emergency room, Alliance Community Hospital operates three facilities; two are labeled After Hours and one is called Family Urgent Care.
After Hours Care of Alliance is located at 2461 W. State St. and is open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; After Hours Care of Minerva is located at 625 N. Market St. and is open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and at this time closed on weekends; and Family Urgent Care of Louisville is located at 506 W. Main St. and is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Both the Alliance and Louisville facilities have X-ray capabilities to diagnose broken bones and sprains; Minerva does not.
While each case is different, the key to making the best choice is to do your homework, understand the differences and be prepared to make a snap decision armed with the best information available.