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Urgent or Emergency? When to go to the ER

Posted on April 5, 2018 in Emergency Room

Urgent or Emergency?

When to go to the ER

EmergencyPhysician’s office, walk-in clinic, or the emergency room at the hospital — there are several places to go when you are sick or hurt, but how do you know which one is the right one for what’s ailing you?

There are many determining factors, but Peter Kah, MD, emergency room physician at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, says it all comes down to this: “If you don’t feel safe at home, you should probably go to the emergency room.”

For example, the pain from a sprained ankle might make you miserable, but probably won’t make you feel unsafe. But if a family member has suffered an accidental blow to the head, you’re less likely to feel safe about keeping him or her at home.

Should I go to the hospital?

Another way to determine if you need to go to the ER is if your symptoms are persistent or sudden. Chest pain that won’t go away or changes in your vision that come on without warning are good examples. Here are some other symptoms and conditions that need to be seen in the ER:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Broken bones
  • Deep cuts
  • Unusually high fever, fever with rash
  • Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
  • Severe burns
  • Seizures
  • Poisoning
  • Drug overdose
  • Severe allergic reaction 

If you are already under special care for a condition like diabetes or an illness like cancer, Dr. Kah says it’s best to contact your physician before deciding to go to the emergency room. Your physician may want to see you personally, and he or she will definitely want to connect with the emergency room staff if a hospital visit is necessary.   

While the goal of Fort Sanders Regional and all Covenant Health hospitals is to treat all emergency patients as quickly as possible, patients with life-threatening injuries or illnesses are seen immediately, while patients who are assessed and determined to have non-life-threatening conditions may experience a longer wait time. Dr. Kah explained that while patients are in the waiting room out front, they don’t see the ambulances arriving in the back. Those ambulances often carry patients who are experiencing life-or-death emergencies.

In recent years, urgent care and walk-in clinics have become a common sight, and Covenant Health operates several walk-in clinic locations.  Dr. Kah says these are a good resource for non-life-threatening conditions that need care right away. “They are equipped to prescribe medication, and suture most lacerations,” Dr. Kah says. “And they’re pretty quick to determine when you need to go on to the emergency room.”

Dr. Kah notes that if you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, you can generally be treated in a timely manner at your physician’s office or a walk-in clinic, but adds, “It’s always OK to come to the ER if you’re worried, especially if you don’t feel safe in your home.”

  • Low grade fever
  • Cough
  • Upper respiratory symptoms
  • Ear pain
  • Painful urination
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Sprains
  • Shallow cuts
  • Minor trauma

To learn more about emergency care and the other services available at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, visit