Know the difference BEFORE you need help!

All too often an illness or injury appear out of the blue: You wake up in the middle of the night with intense abdominal pain. You stumble while carrying groceries up a flight of stairs, and can no longer put weight on your swollen ankle. Or your baby spikes a high fever on the weekend. Whenever an illness or injury occurs, you need to decide how serious it is and how soon to get medical care. Can you wait to see your regular doctor? If not, you may need to visit an urgent care or emergency room. But which one?  While the answer is not always simple, knowing the difference between urgent care and the emergency room can save your life in a medical emergency. It can also save you a lot of time and money.

Trust your gut. If it feels serious, do not hesitate and call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room. However, if your condition isn’t serious and you aren’t sure if you should wait to see your provider, call his/her office.  Even if the office isn’t open, most providers have an after-hours service that can connect you with a professional who can make a recommendation on where to go based on your symptoms.

Urgent care clinics help fill a vital gap when you become sick or injured, your regular provider is not available, and you can’t wait for an appointment. 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. However, while urgent care clinics are not a substitute for your primary care physician, they are a great resource when you need care but can’t get in to see your healthcare provider.

Hospital emergency rooms provide medical care at any time, day or night. However, unlike urgent care centers, they are equipped and staffed for even the most complex or critical needs, including life- and limb-threatening situations ranging from a heart attack and stroke to traumatic injuries following a car accident. They are equipped to provide rapid or advanced treatments (such as surgery) that are only available in a hospital setting. If your injury or illness isn’t a true emergency, (like a sore throat or sprained ankle) you may have to wait while the ER staff address more critical cases.

If you are not sure where to go, call your healthcare provider. Even if the office isn’t open, most providers have an after-hours service that can connect you with a professional who will make a recommendation on where to go based on your symptoms. Your healthcare provider or health insurance company may also offer a nurse telephone advice hotline that can make a recommendation.
Prepare BEFORE you have a medical problem. Check with your health insurance company to find out which urgent care centers and hospital emergency rooms in your area are covered under your plan. Have their contact information, along with your provider’s in an easily accessible place, like your cell phone and by your home phone.  For a deeper dive into this topic, Scripps has a great website.


About Connect for Health Colorado
June 1, 2016, marks the 5th anniversary of Connect for Health Colorado. It was on this same date in 2011 that Gov. Hickenlooper signed SB 11-200, the law creating a health insurance marketplace to fit the unique needs of Colorado. Five short years later, Connect for Health Colorado has established itself as the go-to resource for individuals, families and small employers across Colorado to purchase health insurance and get financial assistance to reduce costs.