MSU Experts Provide Guidelines For Office, Urgent Care Or ER Visits

July 8, 2019

When should you visit your primary care doctor, urgent care or the emergency department?

Our MSU HealthTeam primary care providers created a set of guidelines to help you decide where to visit based on your health need, the severity of your symptoms, and time of day they occur.

Download a pdf of the infographic.

Wait and see your Primary Care Doctor for the following:

  • Health Screenings & Routine Tests
  • Ongoing/Chronic Medical Conditions or Pain
  • Annual Check-Ups & Physicals
  • Unexplained Weight Changes
  • Acute Issues (such as flu/cold-like symptoms (cough, sore throat, ear pain, etc.), frequent/painful urination, mild to moderate asthma, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, migraines/headaches

Your primary care office is intended to be your main medical relationship. It is where you want all your ongoing care and coordination of your care to happen.

Established patients do not have to wait long at MSU HealthTeam, as “many primary care offices save same-day appointments for acute issues such as urinary infections, colds and flus, skin rashes, sprains, and more,” says Jessica Heselschwerdt, MD, MSU assistant professor and licensed practitioner with MSU Family Medicine.

“The mistake that a lot of people make when they’re feeling sick or have a minor injury is that they head to Urgent Care without calling their primary care doctor first. Your primary care doctor knows you best and you already have a relationship with them, so that’s the best place to start. However, if it’s after hours or a weekend, Urgent Care is a good option for issues that aren’t severe enough for the ER but can’t wait until the next day.” 

Urgent Cares are equipped to handle minor emergencies when your primary care office isn’t available or for care that is not immediately life-threatening.

Seek treatment at an Urgent Care facility if you experience the following outside of your Primary Care Clinic hours:

  • Non-Life-Threatening Illness, Allergic Reactions, or Injury
  • Closed Bone Fractures, Sprains, or Strains
  • Cuts and Lacerations
  • Eye Swelling or Irritation
  • Acute Issues

The emergency room provides immediate medical attention for life-threatening cases. Call 911 and not your primary care office if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Recovery from many emergencies such as a heart attack and stroke rely on quick medical intervention. Taking the time to contact your primary care office or drive to the emergency room may cost you valuable long-term function.

Hend Azhary, MD, MSU assistant professor and licensed practitioner with MSU Family Medicine, tells us, “While your primary care doctor can manage non-acute symptoms, existing medical conditions, and provide preventing care services annually, sometimes an urgent care visit is needed for non-life-threatening conditions that require assessment the same day or when your primary care doctor is unavailable. Life-threatening conditions like sudden onset of pain or acute major injuries should be saved for visits to the emergency room.”

Call 9-1-1 or visit the ER immediately if you experience any of the following:

  • Chest Pain, Numbness in Limbs or Face
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Difficulty Breathing or Speaking
  • Coughing/Vomiting Blood
  • High Fever with Stiff Neck
  • Mental Confusion or Sudden/Unexplained Loss of Consciousness
  • Head Injury
  • Severe Burns
  • Open Bone Fractures/Wounds

“In pediatrics, it is important to know when to go to the ER because young children can get sick very quickly,” Jennifer Boote, DO, MSU assistant professor and licensed practitioner with MSU Pediatrics, advises us.

“Most fevers and minor illnesses can wait to be seen by a primary care physician during regular business hours. Newborns, infants and young toddlers present a particularly difficult situation because they cannot communicate how they are feeling as well as an older child or adult could. An infant or toddler with inconsolable crying or difficulty arousing could be gravely ill. The College of Osteopathic Medicine pediatricians have a physician on-call 24/7 so that parents can contact us for advice on whether a condition would warrant an ER visit. We encourage families to contact us prior to going in for less severe issues in hopes to avoid exposing children to the illnesses at the ER.”