Sometimes it can be difficult to decide whether or not to visit the emergency room. No matter what you end up deciding, remember that it’s always a good idea to get your primary care doctor involved, the sooner the better. When your primary care doctor is kept informed he or she can help direct you to the care of a specialist and can ensure that your personal history is considered before treatment is given.
Your primary care physician can also help you decide whether a trip to the ER is needed, or to an urgent care center, or if it is something that can wait until a regular appointment can be made.
Here are some guidelines to help decide what to do in different scenarios, all of which are urgent, but not life-threatening:
In the case of a child who is injured over the weekend who was already brought to the emergency room for treatment:
• Contact your child’s pediatrician and tell him/her what the ER doctors said over the weekend. If your pediatrician agrees with the assessment, schedule an appointment to see a specialist that the ER doctor recommended. It is very common to need a referral to see a specialist.
• Make the appointment yourself if your pediatrician can’t get an appointment for you soon enough. Call the specialist and tell him “My doctor (give his name) said that we need an appointment with you as soon possible.”
If you feel that you need a diagnosis of an illness or other similar situation urgently then it is best to proceed as follows:
• Ask your doctor if he agrees with the urgency of the matter. If you don’t have a primary care physician, you can call a nurse’s hot-line. This is a good way to find out just how urgent it is. Just as you should not stay home if you have bronchitis, you should also not wait for hours at the emergency room for just a cold.
• Before you leave for the ER, call a local urgent care center and find out how long the wait there is. Consider going to the urgent care center instead of the emergency room if the line there is not long. If it turns out the situation is a minor one, then you’ve saved yourself a trip to the ER, and if it is truly dire, then the urgent care referral will get you into to see an ER doctor sooner.
Josyann Abisaab is an emergency room doctor practicing medicine in New York City’s Presbyterian Hospital.