Which Should I Choose? Emergency Department, Same Day Care, Provider Office or Telehealth Visit


If you or a family member has shortness of breath while watching TV, what would you do? What if you deeply cut your finger slicing tomatoes? What if you have a fever and a painful earache? Considering these scenarios and the decision you’d make about what level of care you need, could save you a considerable amount of angst and time.

Typically, you can access medical care in three settings: the emergency department (ED), a same day care center or in a provider’s office. Knowing your options will help you make the right choice when time is of the essence.

Always call 911. Don’t drive yourself to the ED, if you believe you are experiencing heart attack or stroke symptoms, having difficulty breathing or suffering from serious trauma.

Emergency Department
The ED offers care in very serious or life-threatening situations. Common conditions treated there are:

  • Sudden and/or severe pain
  • Shortness of breath and asthma attacks
  • Heart attacks and strokes
  • Abdominal pain and prolonged vomiting
  • Injuries from falls
  • Auto accident injuries
  • Burns
  • Uncontrolled bleeding

 “You should go to an ED if you are having a serious, possibly life-threatening issue, such as chest pain, loss of speech or function of a limb, difficulty breathing, profuse bleeding, major trauma from an accident or severe abdominal pain,” says Douglas C. Waite, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Covenant Health. “People who have complex medical problems or weakened immune systems should also visit the ED if they’re concerned a symptom may be related to their existing medical condition.”

Same Day Care
If your issue is not an emergency, same day care is your best choice. The following illnesses and injuries can be well-managed at these facilities:

  • Common illnesses: colds, bronchitis, sinus infections, intestinal bugs, earaches, sore throats, migraines, low-grade fevers, and rashes
  • Minor injuries: sprains, back pain, minor cuts and burns, minor broken bones, or minor eye injuries/infections

Primary Care/Specialty Care Provider Office
If you need an annual physical or to see a doctor about an ongoing health concern, your primary care physician or advanced practice professional is the best resource. They diagnose a wide variety of medical conditions and are skilled at overseeing your health over time. If your issue is not urgent, simply make an appointment to be seen. If you need to be seen quickly, most providers offer same day in-person or telehealth appointments.  If you have symptoms you think may be due to COVID-19 and they are not severe, you should contact your primary care provider first.  They will best determine how you should be tested and managed.

Specialty providers offer advanced training in a particular branch of medicine, such as cardiology, endocrinology or orthopedics. Many may also perform surgery. If you have a serious and specific health issue, your primary care provider may decide to refer you to a specialty care provider for an expert opinion.

Telehealth leverages technology to bring your care provider conveniently into your home. You may receive a medical assessment via your smart phone or computer, while talking with and seeing a provider. Check with your care provider if this would be an option for you for your specific need.

The use of telehealth has significantly grown across the U.S. since the onset of COVID-19. This progressive and convenient option also minimizes exposure to others in a waiting room who may be ill.

Be Prepared
It may be helpful for you to jot down your health information and carry it with you. Include your name, date of birth and any drug allergies. List all your medicines with dose and when you take them. Add your health history conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and others. Include the name and phone number of your primary care provider as well as your emergency contact.

 Be Informed
You can be sure you get the right care, in the right place at the right time by using your best judgement and carefully considering what type of care you need and how quickly you need it.