Curious about what type of care is best for your symptoms? This guide to care options will help you learn whether your sickness or injury can be handled by going to your primary care doctor, an urgent care or to the emergency room.
It’s 2 a.m. and you’re miserable: fever, aching joints and stuffed up nose. It doesn’t feel like an emergency, but the thought of waiting it out until the morning sounds miserable. What do you do?
If you’ve ever wondered where to go when you’re feeling sick or injured, you’re not alone. Nearly 130 million people head to the emergency room each year, but a large percentage of those visits are not actual emergencies.
While we are fortunate to have several accessible options for care available, how do you know where to go and when? Here are the types of care available and where you should go depending on your symptoms.
When to Visit Your Primary Care Provider
A primary care provider is your first line of defense – whether you are sick or well. Think of primary care provider as your friend and advocate. He or she knows your family’s medical history and can offer health insight that other types of care may take longer to provide.
You should visit your primary care doctor, for:
- Moderate illnesses and non-life threatening symptoms
- Basic, yearly check-ups, vaccinations and health screenings
- Chronic illnesses like high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.
You can easily schedule an appointment online, and even if it’s after hours, we have a provider available to answer your call, so try us after hours, too. Find a sick visit appointment by logging into MyWakeHealth.
If you haven’t seen an Atrium Health provider before, find a new doctor easily with our online booking tool.
When to Go to an Urgent Care
Did you know your local urgent care can help with moderate flu-like symptoms, simple stitches, minor burns and even minor bone breaks? Similar to primary care, you’ll want to visit an urgent care facility if you’re experiencing an illness or injury that doesn’t put your life in danger, but the care you need is more immediate. Perhaps you suspect your cold symptoms are turning into a sinus infection, or you have a mild cut on your hand that needs to be cleaned and assessed for stitches. These are both non-life-threatening situations that would warrant a trip to urgent care.
You should visit urgent care if you have:
- Moderate flu-like symptoms
- Minor wounds, abrasions, burns, or cuts that may require stitches
- Sprains or strains
- Ongoing vomiting or diarrhea
- Fever without a rash
- Ear pain
- Eye redness, itchiness or discharge
- Abdominal pain
Another bonus of urgent care is it does not require an appointment. You can walk in for care when it fits your schedule thanks to convenient extended hours every day of the week. For the best experience, reserve your spot or check the location page for updates beforehand to reduce your waiting time. Be aware, though, that during sick season, there may be longer than normal wait times, so be prepared!
When to Go to the Emergency Room
For serious illness or injury that may put your life in danger, seek help at the nearest emergency department. Medical staff in emergency rooms are available 24/7, ready to help patients with any critical conditions.
You should visit an emergency room if you experience:
- Serious cuts, burns, or wounds
- like confusion or severe or persistent vomiting
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Weakness or numbness throughout the body
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
- Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy
Important note: Call 911 for medical emergencies in which you need transportation for immediate care. Authorities will dispatch an ambulance to pick you up and take you to the nearest hospital.
A Note on Respiratory Symptoms
Common symptoms of respiratory illness include fever, cough and shortness of breath. However, most respiratory illnesses like cold, flu and COVID-19 can be treated at home. We recommend staying home unless seeking medical care, washing hands and staying hydrated. If you have to go out, we recommend wearing a mask.
During winter months especially, flu and COVID-19 testing can be very limited. During these times, we recommend:
- Using at home testing options for COVID-19 and flu.
- Caring for yourself at home if you are otherwise healthy.
- Testing and medical care, which may be needed if you have one of the following risk factors:
- Chronic illness
- Over the age of 65
- Under the age of 4
- Close contact with someone who is at risk of complications
If your symptoms are life-threatening, call 911 or visit the nearest emergency department.