When Is It Okay to Go to Urgent Care?

Beth Israel Lahey Health

Do You Need Urgent Care?

A BIDMC emergency physician and urgent care expert helps you decide.

The message is clear around the world: staying at home is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19. But what if you break a bone, develop a urinary tract infection, or slice your finger and need stitches? When does your urgent need for care outweigh the benefit of staying put?

Barbara A. Masser, MD, Medical Director at BIDMC urgent care centers in Chelsea and Chestnut Hill, offers advice to help you make the right decision when your care can't wait.

Self-Manage If Possible

"All the illnesses and injuries that happened before COVID-19 are still happening," Masser says. "But, many people are questioning whether they should visit an urgent care center for a non-COVID-related condition."

Urgent care centers treat many types of patients, including those with mild concerns seeking reassurance from a doctor. Masser suggests patients with these concerns consider other options during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"If you can self-manage your symptoms safely, that's preferable," she says.

Call Ahead or Use Telehealth

Sometimes, it's not easy to decide if your condition needs immediate attention. Before heading to the nearest urgent care to find out, Masser advises you call your primary care physician for a recommendation. Many PCPs now offer telehealth options so you can receive treatment over the phone or through a video conference.

If you don't have a PCP, Masser recommends calling urgent care before going. "BIDMC urgent care centers currently have staff available to help you determine whether you should come in for treatment," she says.

Avoid Longer Waits and Emergency Departments

Emergency department resources are focusing more and more on patients with coronavirus. "Urgent care can help play a crucial role in reducing the burden on our EDs," Masser says.

Wait times in hospital emergency departments are generally longer than in urgent care centers, and these days are certainly no exception. Urgent care may often be the right alternative for patients hoping to minimize their time away from home.

Many urgent cares also offer online reservations, enabling you to schedule an appointment in advance and receive a text message when your appointment time is near. This option helps you stay home as long as possible before going to your appointment.

"Urgent cares vary, so it's important to know what conditions these centers are equipped to treat when deciding between an ED and an urgent care," Masser says. She recommends checking out this list of conditions treated by BIDMC's urgent care centers.

As always, call 911 if you're experiencing a medical emergency.

Understand How Urgent Cares Keep You Safe

"When used appropriately, urgent care facilities offer a safe environment for any patient who truly needs immediate, in-person care for non-life-threatening conditions," Masser says.

Urgent care centers, like all health care facilities, are working day and night to reduce patients' risk for COVID-19 exposure. BIDMC's urgent care staff screens all patients for respiratory symptoms as they enter and provides masks to any patient with respiratory issues.

In addition, both locations recently launched a respiratory emergency evaluation service to physically separate patients with respiratory issues from others.

Learn more about BIDMC urgent care centers in Chestnut Hill and Chelsea.


Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

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