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Is the Emergency Room your best option?

If you thought you were having a heart attack, you would go to the closest hospital as quickly as possible. However, many other situations aren’t as clear. Deciding on the right place to seek treatment can be a tough call when you feel sick or are in pain.

In 2017, the Kalispell Regional Medical Center and North Valley Hospital emergency departments (ERs) collectively saw nearly 35,000 patients. While some of those patients were admitted to the hospital because of their emergency, others were treated and released.

When you come to the ER to be seen, staff use a process called triage, which means “to sort.” ER staff are specially trained to assess each person, consider their health history and assign them a place in the queue. While staff strive to see patients as quickly as possible, wait times in the ER may vary depending on the number of patients and how sick the patients are (or acuity) that are currently being seen.

When to visit the emergency room

How quickly do you need care? The U.S. National Library of Medicine offers the following suggestions when deciding when to use the emergency room. If a person, child or unborn baby could die or be permanently disabled, it is an emergency.

Call 911 to have the emergency team come to you right away if you cannot wait, such as for:

  • Choking
  • Stopped breathing
  • Head injury with passing out, fainting or confusion
  • Injury to neck or spine, especially if there is loss of feeling or inability to move
  • Electric shock or lightning strike
  • Severe burn
  • Severe (intense) chest pain or pressure
  • Seizure that lasted three to five minutes

Go to an emergency department or call 911 for help for problems such as:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Passing out or fainting
  • Pain in the arm or jaw
  • Unusual or bad headache, especially if it started suddenly
  • Suddenly not able to speak, see, walk or move
  • Suddenly weak or drooping on one side of the body
  • Dizziness or weakness that does not go away
  • Inhaled smoke or poisonous fumes
  • Sudden confusion
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Possible broken bone, especially if the bone is pushing through the skin
  • Deep wound
  • Serious burn
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • Severe (intense) pain anywhere on the body
  • Severe allergic reaction with trouble breathing, swelling or hives
  • High fever with headache and stiff neck
  • High fever that does not get better with medicine
  • Throwing up or loose stools that does not stop
  • Poisoning or overdose of drug or alcohol
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Seizures

When to use walk-in clinics

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, when you have a problem, do not wait too long to get medical care. If your problem is not life-threatening or potentially disabling, but you are concerned and cannot see your provider soon enough, get immediate care at a walk-in clinic.

Walk-in clinics can treat problems such as:

  • Common illnesses, such as colds, the flu, earaches, sore throats, migraines, low-grade fevers and limited rashes
  • Minor injuries, such as sprains, back pain, minor cuts and burns, minor broken bones or minor eye injuries

Find a walk-in clinic.

Another option: Virtual care

Access KRH Care Anywhere, a round-the-clock virtual clinic for nonemergency health care needs. KRH Care Anywhere connects you to a medical provider on your smartphone, tablet or computer, all without leaving home. No appointment is needed.

If you are not sure, talk to someone

If you are not sure what to do, and you don't have one of the serious conditions listed above, call your provider. If the office is not open, you may have the option to speak with an on-call provider. Describe your symptoms to the provider and find out what you should do.

Patients are encouraged to contact their primary care physician for non-traumatic needs to see if appointments are available right away.

Be prepared for emergencies

Before you experience a medical problem, learn what your choices are. Check the website of your health insurance company. Put these telephone numbers in the memory of your phone:

  • Your primary care provider
  • The closest emergency department
  • Local urgent care or walk-in clinics

Download the KRH Care Anywhere mobile app, available through the iTunes Store and Google Play. Register each of your family members in advance to expedite the process should you need to access care in the future.

Recognizing a true emergency can be challenging, but knowing the options available for situations when there are sudden health care needs can help you determine when and where to seek treatment.

Note: The information provided is intended only as general summary information made available to the public. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.