Knowing What Level of Health Care Is Needed Is Key to Saving Time, Lowering Costs and Frustration during Flu Season
SACRAMENTO, Calif.—This flu season, there are more ways than ever to access health care—including walk-in care, urgent care and the hospital emergency department—but when you don’t feel well, what level of care is best? Thinking about your needs before you bundle up and head out the door can save you time, money and frustration, according to Jeffrey Silvers, M.D., medical director of Infectious Diseases at Sutter Health.
“It’s always preferable to consult with your doctor first since a long-term and trusted relationship with your primary care provider leads to the best health outcomes,” says Dr. Silvers. But when your physician is unavailable on short notice or after hours, walk-in care can be a convenient choice to take care of everyday health needs. “Walk-in care providers can help people suffering from uncomplicated colds, flu, or strep throat—including mild fever, cold and cough. Walk-in care is also a good place to get care for seasonal allergies, ear or sinus infections, sprains and strains and vaccinations like flu shots,” he says.
But if you’re feeling really sick and are unsure of where to seek care, it may be helpful to think about whether your symptoms need urgent attention or whether you’re experiencing a health emergency and need immediate care. It comes down to whether you’re experiencing life-threatening symptoms.
- Visit an urgent care clinic when you need care right away for a non-life-threatening illness with symptoms such as moderate fever, vomiting, cough, chest congestion, mild asthma, minor bleeding or cuts, or a minor broken bone.
- It’s time to head to the emergency department if you are experiencing a life-threatening illness or emergency and need immediate Life-threatening symptoms can include a high fever, severe chest congestion, chest pain, symptoms such as unexplained numbness, weakness, or problems with speech, difficulty breathing, severe burn, head injury or a compound fracture (where the broken bone pierces the skin.) Please note that emergency departments care for patients based on medical urgency, and not necessarily on a first come, first served basis.
“This year we’re seeing an especially severe variant of the flu across the country,” said Dr. Silvers. “So, if you feel your symptoms warrant it—and especially if you or your loved one are older or have an underlying health condition, such as heart or lung disease, that can turn getting the flu into a life-threatening situation—please seek medical attention as soon as possible.”
Ways to avoid catching the flu include getting a flu shot—Dr. Silvers notes there’s still time because flu may remain a threat until late March or early April— frequent hand-washing and avoiding contact with people who are sick.
Visit the Sutter Health Flu Resource web page for more information about the flu, including symptoms, treatment and when to seek medical attention.