Medical Emergency?

You’re sick or hurt; what do you do? These guidelines can help you decide whether you need the paramedics — or just a pair of tweezers.


Call 911 if… you or someone else has trouble breathing; crushing chest pain; severe bleeding; signs of stroke, heart attack, or shock; or a fall causing immobility or head trauma.

Go to the ER if… the concern requires immediate attention or possible hospitalization, like appendicitis symptoms, extremely high fever, dehydration, eye injuries, or infections that need intravenous (IV) treatment. The CDC estimates that only 12% of emergency room visits are warranted. Take advantage of a nurse hotline to decide. If you choose the ER, be prepared for long waits and high costs.

Check in at an urgent care facility if… it’s clear your condition isn’t life threatening, but it’s after hours or your physician is booked for the week. Some problems may include strep throat, broken fingers, or lacerations. Call ahead — clinics vary in the services they offer. While some perform EKGs, blood tests, and X-rays, others just handle patient exams and prescriptions.

Stay home if… your doctor’s given the green light. Most flus, stomach bugs, light sprains, and noninfected cuts can be cared for with fluids, ice, ointment, and band-aids.

The rule of thumb: When in doubt, call 911 for emergencies, otherwise your doctor.

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