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Should I Go to a Doctor, Walk-in Clinic, Urgent Care Center, or Hospital Emergency Department

Outline: Provides information regarding where to go to get medical care when you are not sure if you should go to a walk-in clinic, urgent care center, family doctor, or hospital emergency department. Emergency situations should be handled by calling your local emergency service, e.g. 911 in the U.S., to provide ambulance service to the nearest hospital. You should not drive yourself to the emergency room if you're experiencing chest pain, severe bleeding, dizziness or nausea, or head trauma.

Main Digest

All urgent emergency situations should be handled by calling your local emergency service, e.g. 911 in the U.S., to provide ambulance service to the nearest hospital. The problem is deciding what qualifies as an emergency is often not easy, as symptoms can vary greatly. Learning as much as possible about symptoms of life-threatening health issues in advance is useful.

When to Go to Your Doctor

We cannot offer solid guidelines for when you should see a doctor, or when it is unnecessary, because symptoms with the same cause vary too much and symptoms with different causes overlap too much.

The decision to see a doctor can vary, depending on whether the visit is for preventive care (e.g. routine visit, yearly check up), for medical problems, or for a more serious reason, condition, or emergency. Everyone should see their doctor, dentist, and eye doctor for preventive care routinely.

In general people visit their doctor for illness treatment, disease management referrals, diagnostics, preventive care, and prescriptions.

When to Go to a Clinic or Walk-in Clinic

If the condition is a minor illness or injury then a visit to a walk-in clinic is probably your best choice.

Most walk-in clinics provide medical services such as diagnostics, prescriptions, and preventive care for non-acute symptoms of common illnesses, skin conditions, screenings, and vaccinations, as well as other community services.

When to Go to an Urgent Care Center

Clip art image of female and male doctor.
Clip art image of female and male doctor.

The main distinguishing feature of an Urgent Care Center is that it is not designated as a 'Receiving Center' for ambulance bound patients. Thus, any patients being transported by ambulance will be routed to an ED. However, it is recognized that Urgent Care Centers may be the destination chosen by patients suffering from what ultimately evolves into an immediate life or limb threatening clinical problem. Thus, Urgent Care Centers must have the necessary skills and diagnostic equipment to assess and resuscitate patients presenting with a complete range of medical problems. Urgent Care Centers typically - although not necessarily - operate for a reduced number of hours (generally 12 to 16) per day.

Some urgent care facilities operate as part of a primary care facility, either in a Comprehensive Health Center, multidisciplinary clinic, or a primary care facility such as a doctor's office. Conceptually, Urgent Care Centers focus on the delivery of care to patients and ideally, they are designed to provide services that do not necessarily need to be delivered in a hospital, but address the vast majority of urgent care needs of patients served either by the primary care group or the community. They will typically be capable of diagnosing and managing problems such as respiratory tract infections, soft tissue injuries, minor fractures, abdominal pain, etc. Some urgent care facilities have on site, or immediate access to, basic laboratory evaluation and diagnostic imaging.

An urgent care care center is a category of walk-in clinic focused on the delivery of ambulatory care in a dedicated medical facility outside of a traditional emergency department. In Europe and the U.K., similar services are known as walk-in centres. Urgent care centers are an alternative to A&E, treating both children and adults.

An illness or injury that does not appear to be life threatening but can't wait until the next day should be treated at an urgent care center.

Urgent care centers are primarily for patients whose illnesses or injuries don't present as life-threatening, but who can't wait until a primary care physician can treat them. Urgent Care Centers provide non life-threatening conditions such as diagnostics, prescriptions, treatment for minor injuries, Illness, and treatment(s) that should be seen to the same day.

When to Go to a Hospital Emergency Department

An Emergency Department (ED) is, by definition, a 24/7 service which operates in a hospital. It is provided with all appropriate infrastructure (including not only human resources, but also the technology) necessary for the assessment, resuscitation, stabilization, and, where appropriate, either admission or transfer, of emergently ill or injured patients.

If the condition is possibly life threatening such as stroke, severe burns, poisoning, severe allergic reactions, chest pain, difficulty breathing, head trauma, severe bleeding, loss of vision, or heart attack, then always play it safe by getting to the closest hospital emergency department as soon as possible. For instance, the following examples clearly require an immediate visit to the emergency department without delay:

When in doubt call an ambulance!

You should not drive yourself to the emergency room if you're experiencing chest pain, severe bleeding, dizziness or nausea, or head trauma. If you believe your injuries or symptoms are life-threatening or may become life threatening within a few minutes, call your local emergency service number immediately, do not hesitate, and do not wait to see if "it will go away on its own!".

Summary

Above all, if your personal instinct or motherly intuition tells you a health condition is serious, don't hesitate ! go to the nearest emergency room!

Another medical care option, Telemedicine, is fast becoming a convenient alternative option instead of a physical visit to pharmacy care, or a walk-in clinic. Learn more about today's Telemedicine and eHealth trend.

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