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Where to go when you need care: Ask these 3 questions

It’s a crisp, fall Saturday morning. Soccer season is in full swing.

Watching your 12-year-old dash down the sideline, ready to score, the unexpected happens. A player from the opposing team lays down a slide tackle and what appeared to be a moment destined for glory turns quickly to worry.  She’s grabbing her wrist, clearly injured and clearly in pain.

When an unexpected injury or illness happens, it's easy to panic. This is especially true if your child is involved.

Where do you turn when you need care after hours or on the weekend?

An estimated 3 million people visit urgent care centers each week, according to the Urgent Care Association. Visiting an urgent care can save you time and money – yet it’s important to know and understand when to use an urgent care and when to visit an emergency room.

Here are a few tips to help you pick the right place for the right care:

1. Is it something you'd see your primary care doctor for?

If the injury or illness is something you'd normally take to your pediatrician or family practice physician, it likely doesn’t require a trip to an emergency room. That doesn't mean you have to wait to schedule an appointment to address the problem. Urgent care clinics are generally open on weekends, and many now offer the option of booking an appointment online, even for a sudden illness or injury.

2. Is it minor?

When you or your child are uncomfortable or in pain, it’s not minor to you. But it may be helpful to think in advance about what constitutes a “minor illness or injury.” Here are a few examples:

  • Colds, flu, strep throat
  • Ear pain, ear infection
  • Bronchial conditions, including  bronchitis, a cough or chest congestion
  • Cuts, scrapes and minor wounds that may require stitches
  • Sprains and  minor fractures (e.g. hairline fracture)
  • Skin conditions, including a rash, allergic reaction, poison ivy or other unexplained skin problem
  • Bug bites, such as spider bites
  • Urinary tract infection ( UTI)

3. Is it serious or life-threatening?

While most of us know to go to the emergency room for a suspected heart attack or stroke, hospital emergency rooms are the best place to seek care for serious, complex care, including:

  • A bad fall, such as fall from a ladder or roof. Serious falls often involve multiple injuries, including broken bones or head injuries.
  • An auto accident. Trauma from a significant car accident may also involve more serious, internal injuries.
  • A compound fracture, particularly if the bone has broken through the skin. While it may be difficult to know the severity of a fracture, if it resulted from a significant fall, an auto accident or a skiing injury, for instance, a hospital emergency room may be best.
  • A complex illness or complications from a chronic condition. If you’re experiencing problems related to congestive heart failure, for instance, it may be best you go to an emergency room – especially if it’s after hours and you’re unable to see your regular specialist. 
  • Acute abdominal pain. Most urgent cares will treat an upset stomach or “stomach flu” (virus). If your abdominal pain is severe, it’s generally best to go to the closest emergency room.

If you have any doubts about whether your local urgent care is equipped to handle your illness or injury, call before you visit. This will help you and them identify the best place to be treated for your condition.

And, if you need an urgent care in Washington, check to see if there’s an Indigo Urgent Care near you. Indigo Urgent Cares are located across the Puget Sound region, and there are four sites in Spokane and the Inland Northwest. With hours from 8 am to 8 pm every day of the year, Indigo offers you a safe, convenient option for care. Learn more about the  conditions we treat


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