When and where to go for fast medical care

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Severe sunburn, unexplained rashes, cuts, bruises and broken bones are all too often part of the summer experience. And as luck usually has it, they always seem to arise or happen when the doctor's office is closed.

Fortunately for residents of this area, we have two options for care when your doctor is not available: ExpressCare and the Emergency Department, both at SVMC.

While both offer board-certified care outside regular doctor's hours, they're both not right for every kind of health issue. Knowing where to head for treatment could save your life in a medical emergency.

Here are a few tips for deciding where to go:

If your condition isn't life threatening but needs to be taken care of, think ExpressCare.

Open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and with no appointment required, ExpressCare is ideal for:

• Mild abdominal pain, i.e., pain above belly button

• Mild allergic reaction (No facial or throat swelling, near fainting, shortness of breath, or chest pain.)

• Mild chest pain in those younger than 40

• Cough, cold and flu symptoms

• Dizziness (No vision or speech change, numbness, or weakness.)

• Earaches, sore throats, sinus symptoms

• Minor eye injuries, infections, or irritation, including pink eye

• Fractures

• Mild or moderate headache

• Head injury without symptoms (No concussions.)

• Mild or moderate pain

• Rashes, stings, and bites

• Mild shortness of breath or wheezing

• Minor trauma: lacerations, burns, strains, and sprains

• Urinary tract infections

If your condition is severe or potentially life-threatening, head to the Emergency Department.

Like most Emergency Departments, it is open 24 hours, seven days a week. The Emergency Department has the widest range of services for emergency after-hours care, including diagnostic tests and access to specialists.

Symptoms that warrant an immediate visit to the Emergency Department include:

• Heart attack or stroke

• Chest pain

• Shortness of breath

• Severe abdominal pain

• Loss of consciousness

• Head injury or other major trauma

• Major burns

• One-sided weakness or numbness

• Open fractures

• Severe bleeding

• Intense pain

• Poisoning or suspected overdose

It's important to note that if you arrive at the Emergency Department with a health issue that is not a true emergency, you may experience a long wait-time while others with more pressing needs are seen to. In addition, the cost for care in the Emergency Department can be significantly more expensive than care provide at ExpressCare or your regular physician's office.

The good news is that when it comes to getting care you have options. Use your best judgment on deciding where to go for care. But please remember, if you have a true emergency, such as a stroke or heart attack, don't hesitate to call 911. In many instances, paramedics can begin important and life-saving treatments on the way to the hospital.

— Mark J. Zimpfer, MD, is the medical director for SVMC ExpressCare and an emergency physician at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. "Health Matters" is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.


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