When is it an emergency?

Closing the door on a finger…a painfully sick stomach…an excruciating headache…sudden episodes of sickness or injury at times leave us guessing whether or not we are experiencing an emergency. Frequently, the response is to make a dash down to the closest hospital emergency room for help. Often the result is a lengthy wait and an expensive bill for the treatment of a non-emergency condition.

Statistics show that the majority of visits to emergency rooms in U.S. hospitals are for treatment of nonemergent cases that could have been treated elsewhere. Of the 106 million annual visits to the emergency rooms, 58 percent – nearly 62 million cases – are for treatment of patients who could have been seen in other less-acute care settings, such as an urgent care facility or physician's office. In addition to unnecessarily driving up medical costs, the growing trend of non-emergency visits to the emergency room adversely impacts hospitals' ability to care for severely ill or injured patients.

What to do if you have an emergency

A medical emergency is a sudden unexpected illness or injury that you believe would place your life in danger or cause serious damage to your health if you do not seek immediate medical treatment. If you believe that you are suffering from a life-threatening injury or illness, or a condition that would place your health in serious jeopardy, you should not hesitate to call 9-1-1 or visit the nearest hospital emergency room. Many illnesses and injuries can be life threatening and do require visits to a hospital emergency room.

If you're not sure it's an emergency

Several resources are available to assist you with urgent care situations (health conditions that would not likely require hospitalization for instance, cuts, sprains, minor trauma, upper respiratory infections, stomach aches, headaches, dizziness, colds, muscle pain):

  • Your physician. If you are able to make a phone call, you should call your physician for assistance. He or she has an understanding of your medical background and can best determine the seriousness of your condition and the appropriate treatment setting. Your physician or an on-call physician is available 24 hours, seven days a week.
  • ProvRN. Providence Health Plan members can call ProvRN anytime day or night, seven days a week, to receive free health advice from a registered nurse. ProvRN nurses provide advice on routine ailments, such as cold, flu and backaches. Call ProvRN at 503-574-6520 or 800-700-0481 (TTY: 711).
  • Urgent care or immediate care. If you decide to seek immediate care – either because you are unable to reach your physician or believe that you cannot wait to see your doctor – consider going to an urgent care or immediate care facility. Urgent care or immediate care visits typically cost a little more than a doctor visit, but considerably less than an emergency room visit. Additionally, your wait time is usually shorter than wait times in the ER. The location also may be closer than a hospital.

Hours, policies and services vary from one facility to another. You may want to call ahead prior to visiting a facility. Helpful questions to ask include: Is an appointment necessary? What is the average wait time? What is the latest time that you can arrive and still be seen? Does the facility have the lab and X-ray equipment needed to diagnose and treat your condition, if necessary? Search emergency and urgent care facilities.

*If you need urgent care services and are inside the Providence Health Plan service area, please try to go to a participating urgent care facility. If there are no participating urgent care facilities available, Providence Health Plan will cover urgent care services received from a non-participating urgent care facility.