smartER: The best health care begins in the best setting

Deep cuts and noisy, shallow breathing. Fevered brows, aching ears and raw, scratchy throats.

Banged-up bones and painful joints.

Over the course of a lifetime, each of us makes dozens of decisions on how to handle the maladies, illnesses and injuries, both major and minor, that disrupt and sometimes overtake our lives.

Sometimes we’re just not sure what to do or where to go.

When we make these decisions, we may over-estimate a relatively minor problem and not choose the most suitable place for care. When we talk about “the where of health care,” this is what we’re referring to: Getting care in the setting that’s best for meeting your needs. Simply put, the best care begins in the best setting — sometimes it’s your doctor’s exam room, sometimes it’s a hospital emergency room.

So, if you’re practicing smartER when you’re trying to decide where to take your fevered brows or banged-up bones, and you feel you can safely take the time to do it, you should always begin with a call to your primary care doctor. Your doctor can give you direction on your condition.

Not only is your doctor the best at judging the next steps you should take, he or she also has the benefit of knowing your medical history. If you don’t have a primary doctor, get one now.  You can find a listing with all the information you need at

If your doctor isn’t available and if it’s not an emergency, an urgent care center may be a good option. These providers stand in the space between your PCP and a hospital emergency room. They provide services for conditions that occur suddenly and unexpectedly and require prompt diagnosis and treatment, but aren’t life-threatening or likely to cause permanent damage.

We can’t tell you where to go for treatment for every situation, but we can give you some help with the decisions you’ll someday confront. With the advice of medical professionals, we’ve compiled a list of relatively common illnesses and injuries and where you should consider seeking treatment for them.

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