Home / First Aid / How to Navigate Urgent Medical Care in an Emergency

How to Navigate Urgent Medical Care in an Emergency

This isn’t advice on how to get into a doctor because you don’t want to wait until tomorrow. This advice is for extreme times when another day may put your health at risk. What are some examples of these extreme situations?

* When your child is injured over the weekend, and the Emergency Room (ER) doctor says, “We’ve splinted it, but you need to see a pediatric specialist Monday morning.”

* The pap smear comes back with atypical results, and the OBGYN says that you need a full biopsy.

* Symptoms that have been nagging for days or weeks, like a bad cough, have “spiked”, becoming suddenly much worse.

For a child who urgently needs to see a specialist:

1. Call your pediatrician. Tell them what the ER said over the weekend. If they agree with the assessment, have them make the appointment for you with the specialist. Specialists usually require referrals from other doctors.

2. If the pediatrician cannot get your child in soon or will not make appointments for you, still get the name of the recommended specialist. Then call that specialist and state “My doctor, (state the doctor’s name), said that we need an appointment with you as soon as possible.”

For urgent “need a diagnosis” situations:

1. Call your doctor for his opinion of urgency. If you don’t have a doctor, call a nurse hotline. Find out how urgent the issue is. Just as no one should stay home for a case of bronchitis, no one should sit in the ER for a cold.

2. Before going to the ER, call your local urgent care center. Ask them what their wait time is. If they have a short wait, you could consider going to the urgent care center instead of the ER. If the situation is minor, you will have saved yourself money and a long wait. If it is a dire situation, their referral to the ER will get you in sooner.

For follow-up with a doctor after an ER visit for adults:

1. If you have a primary care doctor, preface your call with “I was told by the ER” to highlight the urgency.

2. If the doctor cannot see you soon, ask them for a referral to someone who can.

3. If you do not have a primary care doctor, call the nurse’s line for your health plan or for the hospital. Describe the situation, and then ask who could see someone in your situation promptly.

Getting to a specialist for adults:

1. Ask your doctor for his recommended specialist. Then, call that specialist and state “My doctor (state his name) said that we need an appointment with you as soon as possible.” Doctors value referrals from other doctors, and will give a higher priority to patients referred by another doctor than those who walk in off the street.

2. If you do not have a primary care doctor, ask the service provider who she would recommend. If finances are a problem, state such up front and ask who offers services to someone in your situation.

These are some tips that should help you decide what steps to take if you are caught needing urgent medical help. Remember, above all else, it is important to get your primary care doctor involved as soon as possible. Doing so will enable you to obtain specialist help, and ensure that your personal medical history is taken into account when treatment is rendered.