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Bryan Boone, director of nursing and emergency services at Clark Memorial Health, discusses the triage area of the ER during a September tour.

JEFFERSONVILLE — Do you know where to go when you are experiencing a sudden illness or injury? Clark Memorial Health’s urgent care and emergency room staff offer tips on how to choose the right care.

Urgent care is often more convenient and affordable for minor illnesses or injuries. Emergency room visits should be reserved for extreme medical conditions such as stroke, heart attack, extreme discomfort or pain, difficulty breathing and severe injuries. If a situation is life-threatening, call 9-1-1 and let emergency medical technicians stabilize the patient while riding to the emergency room.

It can be hard to know whether an injury or illness should be seen at urgent care or the emergency room. Especially if there has been a minor accident at home, it is common for patients to panic and seek out the ER when an urgent care center would have been able to handle the condition.

Patty Blevins, nurse practitioner at Clark Memorial’s Urgent Care in Clarksville, says patients should go to urgent care for acute conditions for which they could normally see a regular doctor. Examples include a cold, upper respiratory infection, flu, or strep throat. Patients who experience an aggravation of a chronic condition such as diabetes or hypertension should either call their physician or go to the emergency room.

The priority in the emergency department goes to life-threatening conditions, and up to 45% of people who go to the ER should not really be there, says Bryan Boone, director of nursing and emergency services at Clark Memorial Health.

“We have to triage based upon the severity of symptoms,” he says. “If someone comes in with cold-like symptoms, they are going to be at the bottom of the list of priority. It could result in them waiting a really long time, which is not anything we want. We want to provide a fast service, and we’re trying to improve our processes so care is expedited for everybody.” An influx of patients with cold- and flu-like symptoms, which is often the case in winter, slows down care for everyone, he adds.

Boone says that if a condition is one you’d call an ambulance for, it is a condition that should be seen at an emergency room: Chest pain, shortness of breath, or neurological deficits such as numbness or inability to move part of the body call for the ER.

Some conditions are more difficult for patients to determine whether emergency care is required. For example, abdominal pain could be as minor as a virus or an issue that requires surgical intervention, Boone says. While there are usually limits to what an urgent care can offer in terms of imaging (such as CT scans), urgent care facilities are able to order a scan at the hospital or refer a patient to the emergency room. An accident involving a severe cut to the hand or involving tendons might not be something either an urgent care or emergency room can handle. Boone says that even in the emergency department, these injuries are frequently referred directly to hand surgeons.

According to Blevins, the following conditions could easily be addressed at an urgent care facility in less time and with less expense than an emergency room:

● Fevers in children

● Sore throat

● Cough & congestion (sinus problems)

● Ear pain

● Burning with urination

● Eye redness and discharge

● Minor lacerations (cuts)

● Sprains

● Minor burns

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