Doctor’s office vs. emergency room: Which one should you choose?

Photo of Chris Carr
FILE—Knowing when to go to the doctor's office versus the emergency room this year is imperative.

FILE—Knowing when to go to the doctor's office versus the emergency room this year is imperative.

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With the pandemic still in full swing and cold and flu season now upon us, it’s good to keep in mind where to go for medical help.

For many Michiganders there exist a few different options for medical assistance. Primary care physicians can handle many things, but sometimes it’s best to head to the emergency room or urgent care, and with the pandemic, telehealth options have become increasingly popular.

“If these things can be irreversible, then go to the emergency room,” said Mark Hamed, health director for eight counties throughout Michigan. Hamed stresses the importance of recognizing what can warrant a visit to the E.R.

These irreversible health issues could be anything that requires immediate attention such as lacerations, open wounds or heart issues.

“People should have a low threshold for when they seek care,” Hamed said. “Don’t delay care with COVID. Don’t delay care for anything.”

If a 911 call is made, Hamed recommends disclosing any relevant information about vaccination status or COVID-19 exposure to aid in preparation.

“Ideally if they can communicate to the EMS or dispatcher, the hospital can prepare the proper PPE,” Hamed said.

For other health issues, meeting with your primary physician is the best route. Many offices may be able to set up telehealth appointments where they can address issues before needing to see a patient in person. Telehealth may also be helpful for renewing prescriptions. An option that Hamed recommends talking to a primary physician about are courtesy refills. This can drive down the frequency of appointments related to prescription refills.

Because of the nature of COVID-19 and the flu, signs and symptoms can seem similar.

"Symptoms can overlap," Hamed said. "Get your flu shot, COVID vaccine and be up on your booster."

According to Hamed, the best way to stay healthy this season is through optimizing preventative care. This includes staying up to date on vaccines and practicing social distancing and flu prevention techniques suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.