Family Doctor, Urgent Care Center or Emergency Room?

It's 4 o'clock in the afternoon. You have a sore throat and you're concerned it may be a strep infection. So where should you seek treatment— your doctor's office, retail clinic, urgent care center or emergency room?

"If you've got a medical issue that you think needs prompt attention, but isn't an emergency, call your family doctor first," says Candace Basich, M.D., a physician at San Clemente Family Medicine.

This is especially important for people with chronic health conditions. "Your doctor is familiar with your entire medical history, including your medications, physical disabilities and personal circumstances," says Dr. Basich. "This cumulative information helps your provider make informed decisions about your health care."

Urgent Care

Urgent care centers have on-site physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and access to a broader range of medical services than retail clinics. This includes basic wound treatment, X-rays, lab work, EKGs to check a patient's heart and other diagnostic testing. Saddleback Family and Urgent Care Medical group in Lake Forest and Mission Viejo has extended hours and can also address your general family practice needs.

Emergency Room

Some circumstances, however, demand that patients go directly to an emergency room. "The ER is equipped and staffed to handle anything from minor conditions to even the most serious illnesses and injuries using stateof- the-art protocols," says Marc Taub, M.D., medical director of Saddleback Memorial's emergency departments. "If you're not certain whether you, a relative or friend is experiencing a medical emergency, play it safe by going to the ER."

In some cases, however, calling 9-1-1 is the best decision. Among the symptoms that warrant paramedic assistance are chest pain, severe bleeding, trouble breathing, intense discomfort in any part of the body or the signs of a stroke—sudden vision changes, slurred speech, one-sided weakness or mental confusion.

"Never try to drive yourself to the ER if you have any of these symptoms," cautions Dr. Taub. "And don't try to take care of the situation yourself, or wait and see if your symptoms disappear. In the case of a stroke or heart attack, irreparable damage may be done to your brain or heart if you delay treatment."