In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are sheltering in place and practicing social distancing. But that doesn’t mean you can or should put your medical issues on hold. So, what should you do during this crisis if you need medical care for a condition unrelated to COVID-19?
“As we continue to treat COVID-19 patients, please know that our doctors are still here, both virtually and in-person, to address all your medical needs,” says Ghazala Sharieff, MD, Scripps chief medical officer, clinical excellence and experience. “Plus, our emergency rooms, urgent care centers and most Scripps HealthExpress locations are open and continue to deliver the highest level of care.”
It’s important that you keep essential visits with your physician for chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, as well as appointments for neurological issues, pre- and post-natal care and pediatrics. Visits can be conducted in your doctor’s office or virtually. Please check with your doctor to see which option is right for you.
While the answer is not always simple, knowing the level of care you need whether it be an emergency room, urgent care or telemedicine — could save your life in a medical emergency and can ensure that you get appropriate treatment while allowing hospitals to make the best use of their available resources.
“I’m concerned that people experiencing life-threatening conditions, such as a heart attack or stroke, are delaying seeking emergency help out of fear of contracting the virus in the hospital or may be worried about adding additional strain to the medical system,” says Dr. Sharieff. “We want people to know that if you are experiencing a true emergency, we will always be there for you.”
There are several medical conditions that are considered emergencies — whether related or unrelated to COVID-19 — because they can require rapid or advanced treatments — such as surgery — that are only available in a hospital setting.
Symptoms that are best evaluated in an emergency room include:
- Chest pain or difficulty breathing
- Weakness/numbness on one side
- Slurred speech
- Fainting/change in mental state
- Serious burns
- Head or eye injury
- Broken bones and dislocated joints
- Fever with a rash
- Severe cuts that may require stitches
- Facial lacerations
- Severe cold or flu symptoms
- Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy
“Under no circumstance should you avoid going to an emergency room or calling 911 if you feel that your symptoms are truly serious. Every minute that you delay, the likelihood of you having a worse outcome increases,” says Dr. Sharieff.
If you decide to seek emergency care, you will be screened for COVID-19 before you are allowed into the facility to better identify and isolate those with the virus. Scripps has COVID-19 triage tents set up outside each of its emergency departments at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista and Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego.
Even if it is clear that you or your loved one needs emergency care, you may be unsure whether to drive to an emergency room or call 911.
“When in doubt, call 911. It’s important that you get to the emergency room quickly and safely, especially if you are experiencing severe chest pain or severe bleeding, or if you feel like you might faint or have impaired vision,” says Dr. Sharieff.
For certain medical emergencies, such as a heart attack or stroke, calling 911 for an ambulance is always the right decision. This is because paramedics often can begin delivering life-saving treatment on the way to the hospital.
Sometimes, you’ll need to make a judgment call to decide if an injury or illness requires visiting an emergency room or going to an urgent care facility. Urgent care centers are same-day clinics that can handle a variety of medical problems that need to be treated right away, but are not considered true emergencies.
Symptoms that can be evaluated and treated at an urgent care clinic include:
• Fever without a rash
• Vomiting or persistent diarrhea
• Abdominal pain
• Wheezing or shortness of breath
• Moderate flu-like symptoms
• Sprains and strains
• Small cuts that may require stitches
Scripps offers urgent care services for children and adults — seven days a week — in Vista, Rancho Bernardo and Torrey Pines. COVID-19 screening protocols and triage tents have also been implemented at all Scripps urgent care facilities.
If your symptoms come on gradually or you already know the diagnosis — for example, you have repeat urinary tract infections, or you recognize when your child has come down with an ear infection — it’s worth checking out your virtual care options, and see if you can have a telehealth video visit with your primary care doctor.
Many Scripps HealthExpress walk-in, same-day clinics are still open with weekend and evening hours for in-person or video visits for the most minor of ailments, such as:
- Painful urination
- Rashes without fever
- Mild flu-like symptoms
- Cough and congestion symptoms
- Sore throat
- Ear pain
- Eye redness, discharge or itchiness
They are a good option for when you are not feeling well, but it’s not serious enough for the emergency room or urgent care.
“Telehealth is a safe, convenient and cost-effective option for patients seeking care, especially during a crisis, for conditions that are not potentially life-threatening,” says Dr. Sharieff.