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Top 10 Reasons to Choose an Emergency Room Over Urgent Care

April 2016

Have you ever been injured or just not felt right and wondered if you should wait to call your doctor or make a trip to the emergency room? We’ve all been there and probably second-guessed the right thing to do.  “The decision to choose between an office visit, urgent care or the emergency room (ER) can be tricky,” says Rick Tao, MD, MS, Washington University medical director of the Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital emergency department.

Office visits are best for non-urgent, non-life-threatening issues, but getting an appointment may be difficult if your doctor’s office is busy. The next option could be urgent care clinics, for when you need to be seen quickly, but do not have a true emergency, Dr. Tao says. 

“The next option, the emergency room, provides medical care at any time, day or night. They are equipped and staffed for even the more complex or critical needs, including life- and limb-threatening situations accidents,” Dr. Tao says. The emergency department at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital is easy to find at Olive and Mason in west St. Louis County and has short wait times.

If your condition is serious enough for a visit to the emergency room, it is probably best to not drive yourself, Dr. Tao adds. An ambulance is a good idea if you have difficulty getting into or out of your car, you are too sick to drive, or if your condition could worsen en route to the hospital. 

Top 10 Reasons to Choose the Emergency Room Over Urgent Care:

Dr. Tao recommends calling 911 or heading to an emergency room if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

  1. Respiratory problems: If you have difficulty breathing or are experiencing severe asthma or wheezing.
  2. Severe chest pain: If you are feeling persistent chest pain, especially if it radiates to your arm or jaw or is accompanied by sweating, vomiting or difficulty breathing.
  3. Severe abdomen pain: If you have severe pain in the abdomen, especially with blood in stool or vomit.
  4. Severe back pain: If you have severe back pain with numbness or tingling, weakness or loss of your ability to control urine or stool.
  5. Symptoms of a stroke: If you experience any of the following stroke symptoms: sudden clumsiness; loss of balance or fainting; difficulty speaking or trouble understanding speech; sudden vision changes, including blurred or double vision and full or partial vision loss; altered mental status or confusion, including suicidal thoughts; and sudden weakness or paralysis, especially on one side of the face or body.
  6. Severe headache: When you have a sudden, severe headache; the worst headache of your life; or a headache with high fever and neck stiffness and/or pain.
  7. High fever: If you have a high fever or fevers with a rash and/or if you have a newborn baby with a fever. A baby less than 3 months old with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher needs to be seen right away.
  8. Fall with injury: If you have orthopedic complaints, such as falls that cause injury or occur while taking blood thinning medications; broken bones or dislocated joints; head or eye injuries; deep cuts that require stitches—especially on the face—or a large open wound that won’t stop bleeding.
  9. Pregnancy complications: If you have vaginal bleeding or severe abdominal pain during pregnancy.
  10. Seizure symptoms: If you are experiencing seizure activity without a previous diagnosis of epilepsy, loss of consciousness or fainting.

Be Prepared Before An Emergency Occurs

Dr. Tao recommends several important things to know before an emergency occurs.

  • Research medical services: Know what services for adults and pediatrics are provided at hospitals close to your home.
  • Caring for trauma patients: Trauma care in hospitals varies from Level I (highest level) to Level V (minimal capabilities, but can prepare patients for transfer to a higher level hospital for care). The emergency department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in the Central West End is a Level I.  Barnes-Jewish Hospital is a resource within our region that can provide specialized care for the most complex trauma cases.
  • Understand insurance coverage: As part of the Emergency Medical Treatment & Labor Act (EMTALA) hospitals must provide emergency services regardless of the patient’s ability to pay, but if you are admitted and your insurance is not covered in network the patient may be transferred to another facility.
  • Talk to your doctor: It is helpful to know what hospital emergency room your doctor and/or specialists have privileges. 

What You Should Bring If You Are Coming To The Emergency Room

  • All of your medications or a complete list
  • A list of your doctor’s names and phone numbers
  • Insurance cards
  • Driver’s license or some type of photo identification
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Glasses or hearing aids
  • Pen and paper to take notes
  • Something to read
  • If you are traveling or have an extensive medical history, keeping a binder that includes your pertinent health records is crucial. 

World-class Washington University emergency medicine physicians like Dr. Tao are available in the Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital emergency department around the clock to provide expert care. For more information, visit BarnesJewishWestCounty.org/emergency


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