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Know where to go for care

As a population, we are consumers. We are always evaluating choices and making decisions about what is best for us.

But have you ever thought about doing that with your health care? Whether you are a caregiver or responsible for managing your own health, being a savvy health care consumer is essential in making the right choices for yourself and your family.

All of health care’s emerging technologies and evolving systems point back to the fact that knowledge is still a powerful medicine. Knowing what type of medical care you need in different situations is often the best way to get the appropriate treatment in a timely manner and at the lowest cost.

It all starts with your primary care provider

Having a trusted physician for nonemergency injury and illness care is key to staying well. It is important to establish a relationship with a primary care provider to discuss concerns and monitor long-term health.

“Whenever you’re sick or have any health-related concern and are not so sure what to do, you can always start by consulting with your primary physician to help guide you,” said Dr. Susan Egbe-Tanyi, family medicine physician at Novant Health Primary Care Salisbury.

“Your primary care provider has the most information about your health history and is able to evaluate and assess your concerns and direct your care accordingly,” Egbe-Tanyi added. “If necessary, he or she may help escalate your concern to a higher level of care, such as seeing a specialist or recommending immediate evaluation at an emergency room for a serious illness.”

Being engaged with your primary care provider has shown to improve outcomes for patients. Electronic health records have also led to improved results, as all a patient’s information is available to the primary care provider. Electronic health records help eliminate missing information from a patient’s chart.

Many primary care providers offer same-day sick appointments to treat urgent health needs, making it easier to get care when you need it. Technology is also making it more convenient to see the doctor, with innovations such as online appointment scheduling, e-visits and video visits.

Urgent care is a good alternative

Urgent care bridges the gap between primary and emergency care. Open for extended and weekend hours, urgent care centers are often accessible when primary care clinics may not be. For non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries, this type of center provides a lower-cost alternative to the emergency room (ER).

Conditions that are prime candidates for urgent care treatment include flu, respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, skin infections, lacerations, abscesses, removal of foreign bodies, rashes and fractures. 

“Urgent care is a great option and the next best alternative for immediate access to care when your primary care provider is not available and the situation is not a life-threatening emergency,” said Egbe-Tanyi. “When patients with non-life-threatening or non-critical illnesses frequently visit the ER as their first or primary access to care, it puts an unnecessary strain on the system and delays the care of patients with more life-threatening conditions.”

Emergency care is there when you need it

Serious illnesses and injuries should be treated in an emergency room. Medical center emergency rooms are open 24/7 and can draw on additional hospital services, which can be crucial in a life-threatening situation.

“The emergency room is designed to address life-threatening and serious illnesses as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Egbe-Tanyi said.

People with chest pain, numbness or other symptoms of a heart attack or stroke should be taken to an ER immediately. Anyone who needs an ambulance is always taken directly to an emergency room.

Serious or multiple traumatic injuries, including loss of consciousness, severe neck and back pain, or deformity to an extremity, are best served in a medical center with an ER, where imaging services, operating rooms and surgeons are available.

“Urgent care centers provide convenience for non-life-threatening illnesses and emergency rooms offer expertise for life-threatening and serious problems,” Egbe-Tanyi said. “But neither can replace a relationship with a primary care provider to manage your overall health and promote wellness.”

Do you have a primary care provider? If not, visit NovantHealth.org/doctor to find one at a convenient location near you.

Published: 4/8/2015
Updated on: 5/11/2017