Need to Know: Where to Get Medical Help Over the Holidays

It’s probably not something you want to think about this time of year, but deaths from heart attacks and other causes peak on Christmas and New Year’s Day according to a study from the University of California at San Diego. And the researchers believe that one cause of these spikes is that people delay getting treatment due to the hectic holidays. So with friends and family gathering together and with primary care physicians not keeping normal hours, it’s important to know where you should go to get help if a medical issue arises.

You normally have three options: Go to your primary care physician, go to an urgent care center or go to an emergency room. But if your primary care physician doesn’t have off-hours and is closed on a holiday, you are left with the second two choices. It might be natural to think that the emergency room is the safest place to go, but you could actually end up waiting longer there than you would if you had gone to an urgent care center (not to mention leave with a much larger bill).

Urgent care centers are a great resource when you are dealing with a minor health issues that you want to get treated quickly—things like sore throats, earaches, minor cuts, sprains, rashes or fevers under 103 degrees. That said, there are serious emergencies that require a trip to the ER. If you feel like your life is in danger, your bodily functions are severely damaged or that an organ or other body part may not work properly again, going to the nearest emergency room or calling 9-1-1 is the right choice. What constitutes an emergency? Think broken bones, deep cuts, poisoning, severe burns, chest pains, extreme fevers, seizures or difficulty breathing.

The key to getting the help you need quickly is preparation. So before anything bad happens, make sure you have a printed out contact sheet with the names, phone numbers and addresses of your primary care physicians (for you, your spouse and your children) as well as the nearest urgent care centers (include their hours) and the nearest ER. It’s also a good idea to print out this graphic that breaks it all down for you and tape it up somewhere easily accessible next to the contact list.



Photo credit: Taber Andrew Bain

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