When should you opt for urgent care instead of the ER?

Local doctor breaks down options

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

ORLANDO, Fla. – When a medical emergency or situation arises, choosing the right facility for treatment is important.

Dr. Latha Ganti, from Osceola Regional Medical Center, understands how the different options can be confusing for patients who just want to seek help in the best, most efficient way possible.

Here's what she suggests: 

Primary care physicians
You should have a primary care physician to serve as your "home base" by performing regular screenings and physical exams, providing health advice and referring you to specialists as needed.
Primary care doctors often treat conditions like colds, flu and sore throats.

Urgent care
If your primary care physician can't squeeze you in fast enough, or you catch a bug after hours, you may need to turn to an urgent care center.

Urgent care facilities can be a good option for treating minor illnesses, such as coughs and colds, and minor injuries, including small cuts.

Freestanding emergency departments
At a freestanding ED, you'll find physicians who specialize in emergency care, along with providers like physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

These locations typically have more on-site resources, such as lab facilities and imaging technology like X-rays, CAT scans and ultrasounds, which allow staff to treat more significant conditions like abdominal pain, chest pain and severe headaches.

Freestanding EDs operate as a department of a specific hospital. For instance, Hunter's Creek ER is effectively an extension of Osceola Regional Medical Center.

Full-service hospitals
Full-service hospitals offer an entire suite of specialized care, along with more advanced diagnostic technology such as MRIs.

You may be best off going straight to a full-service hospital if you feel your illness is serious enough that you'll be admitted to the hospital.

If your medical history includes long-term diseases such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes, you may need a specialist's attention to manage your symptoms.

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