As we enter cold and flu season, more and more people may find themselves visiting health-care providers. And with the changing and growing health-care landscape, there are numerous options available to people seeking care. These range from primary-care health providers, specialty clinics, urgent- and express-care centers, and emergency departments.

You may ask yourself, where should I go? Good question! The answer is, it depends.

In general, where someone goes when they are sick depends on the kind of illness they have and the severity of that illness. Your primary-care provider’s office is always a good place to start. This is the best place to go for wellness visits, monitoring chronic health conditions and following up from hospital visits. Also, this is often a good place for acute visits that do not require an emergency visit. If you are uncertain about where to go, they will be able to help direct you to the best place for care.

Urgent care and express care are also excellent options for many health problems. These sites provide walk-in care, and people can often be seen immediately, although some seasons can get a little busy. These centers are great options for health-care problems such as minor injuries, including sprains and cuts, and skin infections. They can also help with cold and flu symptoms, earaches and headaches, insect and tick bites, and urinary-tract infections. They often can be in touch with your primary-care provider to help coordinate care, but they certainly can take care of people from out of town or who have not yet established care.

Sometimes illnesses are more severe, and the best place to go is the emergency department. These sites can provide more extensive services and can coordinate with specialists if needed. Health problems requiring this level of care include serious accidents such as car crashes and bad falls, chest pain and drug overdoses. It would also include illness such as severe, persistent abdominal pain, coughing up blood and significant shortness of breath.

We are fortunate to live in an area which provides all levels of care. Each place has its own function, although there can certainly be some overlap. Understanding these differences can help people seeking health care get to the best place for their needs.

This week’s Health Talk is submitted by Dr. Jennifer D. Hanson, associate medical director, Express Care Community Health.

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