Deciding where to get medical care: Check out these scenarios

December 06, 2021 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Life seems to move along pretty smoothly, until it doesn’t.

Your child wakes up with a cough and a fever. Your spouse ends up with a scarily deep cut while working on a weekend landscaping project. You end up falling on a slippery concrete stairway and bang your head.

Things that need medical attention often catch us off guard, especially when we’re generally healthy and strong.

As soon as you realize you need medical care, you’re faced with a number of unfamiliar options. Is there a difference between immediate care and a walk-in clinic? Should I go straight to the emergency room (after all, this feels like an emergency!)?

It’s important to know the difference ahead of time, as choosing the correct level of care can not only save you money, it could save your life.

You can always call us if you aren’t sure of the best place to go for medical care. We’re available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 331-221-6800.

That said, it’s good to have a general familiarity with the levels of care. Let’s take a few scenarios and triage (assign) them through three levels of care: Walk-In Clinics, Immediate Care Centers and Emergency Departments.

Kid wakes up with a nasty cough, fever.

Your child says they don’t feel good. You feel your child’s forehead and he’s not faking it — he’s burning up. A quick check with a thermometer confirms. Besides that, he’s hacking and says he has a headache.

You call off school. But you only have three hours until a big work meeting, so you need to get your child checked out now.

First tackle the COVID-19 question. Call your child's doctor about next steps if they have symptoms of coronavirus, such as a fever and/or symptoms of respiratory illness (e.g., cough, difficulty breathing), and/or if you've been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or recently traveled to an area with COVID-19.

You can also use our virtual screening options, including our online symptom checker, Video isits or E-visits.

Whether you need a COVID-19 test or medical help with another virus and can't get in to see your primary care physician, the best place to go is a Walk-In Clinic, which are staffed with board-certified nurse practitioners and physician assistants who can provide quick care for things like cold and flu symptoms, coughs and sore throats.

Spouse slices a hand while trimming bushes in the yard.

Weekends are often for yardwork, and your better half decided to spend Saturday afternoon cutting back the overgrown bushes in the back yard. Unfortunately, one hand got too close to the clippers.

It’s definitely deep enough that you have to hold it closed. Your gut instinct is to wrap it and head straight to the ER. But should you?

First, check for an Immediate Care Center near you. You can even check wait times and head to one that has the shortest wait. Immediate Care Centers have board-certified physicians on site, as well as physician assistants and advanced practice nurses, and are equipped to handle cuts that need stitches.

Going to an Immediate Care Center would get you the treatment you need, and would likely save money over heading straight to the emergency room.

The kids were playing Capture the Flag with the neighborhood crew last night and woke up with a super itchy rash on their arms.

Playing flashlight games is a childhood staple. Unfortunately, so is poison ivy. At least, you’re guessing it’s poison ivy. This morning it’s looking pretty bad, and the kiddos have scratched it so much they’re bleeding in some places.

This is a job for a Walk-In Clinic, which can treat poison ivy, as well as other rashes, eczema and even ringworm infections.

You take a fall down the basement stairs and hit your head hard on the concrete.

Once you recover from the initial shock of the fall, you realize you’re feeling dizzy. Your head is throbbing, and you’ve been hit with an overwhelming wave of nausea.

In this scenario, you need two things: someone to drive you and an emergency room.

A severe head injury or concussion is serious enough to warrant a trip to the ER. Our emergency rooms are staffed around the clock with board-certified physicians and nurses.

Your daredevil child took a leap off the treehouse—and landed on his ankle.

You’re not sure how bad it is, but it could be sprained or broken. He can’t put pressure on it, so you help him limp to the car and drive directly to the closest Immediate Care Center.

Caregivers at Immediate Care Centers are able to treat minor breaks and sprains in people of all ages. Most Immediate Care locations even have lab and radiology services available.

If you or someone else experiences life-threatening symptoms, don’t second-guess it. Head to an emergency department immediately. Life-threatening symptoms can include:

  • Chest pain, difficulty breathing
  • Head injuries, abdominal pain
  • Unusual headache, numbness/weakness/ clumsiness, loss of vision
  • Uncontrolled or heavy bleeding or bone fracture/dislocation

Treatment at a Walk-In Clinic, Immediate Care Center or Emergency Department shouldn’t be a substitute for a regular physical with your primary care physician. Getting regular check-ups will help you stay healthy for the long haul (even with the occasional bump in the road). 

When convenience and expertise matter most, Edward-Elmhurst Health offers same-day walk-in care for your minor to moderate illnesses and injuries. Open seven days a week, no appointment needed. Learn more about walk-in care for life’s unexpected urgencies.

Our Emergency Departments (EDs) located in Elmhurst and Naperville, and a freestanding emergency center in Plainfield, combine modern technology with comfort and care. Learn more.

Learn more from Healthy Driven Chicago: 

Which level of care is right for me?

Emergency care for the smallest patients


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