Flu season has arrived

It is time to plan treatment options

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With the start of cold and flu season upon us, it’s not too late to create a game plan for what you should do if a family member becomes ill and where you should go for treatment.

Increasingly, health care customers have a greater number of options when it comes to getting medical care, but sometimes it can be a little confusing because there are so many different venues.

In deciding between primary care, urgent care and emergency-room care, it can often be hard to know — especially in the panic of an unexpected medical event — whether you should go to your primary care provider, urgent care clinic or the emergency room.

At Banner Health, we have developed some guidelines that can help.

Primary care

Even people in good health should have an established primary care provider for annual check-ups. Your primary care provider understands your medical history. When you’re not dealing with an immediate emergency, call them first to guide your next steps if you are faced with a medical situation and are unsure of exactly where to turn.

Your primary care provider can help you with:

  • Most conditions listed under urgent care.
  • Vaccinations.
  • Wellness.
  • Non-urgent specialist referrals.
  • Management for chronic issues, such as diabetes, hypertension, arthritis.

Urgent care

Urgent Care can often be more convenient and less expensive than a trip to the emergency room. Insurance co-pays can vary with your insurance plan, but generally urgent-care co-pays are going to cost less than emergency-room co-pays.

Urgent care centers are appropriate when you:

  • Can’t get in to see your primary care physician.
  • Need medical treatment after your physician office is closed.
  • Need prompt medical attention but the services are not emergent.

Wait times to receive urgent care can vary but usually it takes less time to be treated in an urgent care than it does in an emergency room, especially during flu season. Many facilities now offer online check-in, which means patients can wait comfortably at home.

The following list is not comprehensive, but does offer some general guidelines for the types of conditions appropriate for urgent care treatment:

  • Minor burns or injuries.
  • Minor cuts.
  • Sore throat.
  • Sprains or strains.
  • Cold or flu symptoms.
  • Ear infections.
  • Mild asthma.
  • Animal bites.
  • Minor broken bones.
  • Urinary tract infection.

Unlike an emergency room, urgent care centers are not equipped to address life-threatening conditions, such as heart attacks, strokes or trauma.

If you’re not sure if you or a loved one is experiencing a potentially life-threatening medical illness, treat it as an emergency and go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.

If you have a recurring issue sending you to urgent care during off hours, you should schedule an appointment to follow-up with your primary care provider.

Emergency room

You should call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room with any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Poisoning or overdose.
  • Heavy or uncontrolled bleeding.
  • Sudden change in mental ability.
  • Sudden onset of sharp or severe pain.
  • Sudden severe headache.
  • Dislocated joint.
  • Broken bones with deformity or that break the skin.
  • Vaginal bleeding during a pregnancy.
  • Major burn.
  • Severe reaction to an insect bite, medication or food.

Now is the time to plan for any unexpected illnesses and to think ahead on where you want to receive your care, especially as the cold and flu season begins to pick up.

One last piece of advice from a medical doctor: get a flu shot and, hopefully, we won’t have to treat you this year at any of our locations for the flu!

Editor’s Note: Devin Minor, MD, is physician executive of Banner Urgent Care, which provides a treatment option for patients with non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries to patients in the Northwest Valley.

Visit BannerHealth.com/urgentcare.

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