How to get the right care, at the right place, at the right time

Emergency room or urgent care? Here’s how to make the right decision.
Soccer players supporting an injured player

You fall and break your hip. Do you go to urgent care or the emergency room? What if you burn yourself while cooking? How can you be certain you’re making the best choice? With rising healthcare costs and an increasingly complex healthcare system, more Californians than ever are on high alert about where they get care.

It’s important to know when you should go to the ER or go to an urgent care center, and what you can expect at each. When you understand which illnesses and injuries are considered emergencies, you can make more informed choices about your care. 

When should I go to the ER?

If you have a serious medical emergency that could be life-threatening or cause loss of limbs or vision, call 911 and go to the emergency room right away. If you have any doubts about whether you should drive yourself or call the paramedics, always call 911. 

Commonly treated injuries and illnesses at emergency rooms include:
  • Any life-threatening or disabling condition
  • Injury, with loss of consciousness or fainting
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Sudden numbness of limbs or face, difficulty speaking
  • Broken bones that restrict movement
  • Severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Sudden, severe chest pain or pressure
  • Major injuries, vehicle accidents, or stab wounds
  • Serious burns
  • Poisoning
  • Sudden, severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting blood
  • Drug overdose

When should I go to urgent care?

If your symptoms aren’t life-threatening – or if you can’t get an appointment quickly enough with your primary care physician (PCP) – urgent care could be a good choice. Urgent care centers are walk-in clinics that can treat non-life-threatening medical problems. Some urgent care centers offer preventive care services, like school physicals and flu shots, though it is better to see your PCP for those needs.

If you are a Blue Shield member, you can register online or log in to your account to find your PCP contact information, other specialists, or the urgent care center closest to your home. You can also download the mobile app to have this information on the go. 

Commonly treated injuries and illnesses at urgent care centers include:
  • Cough, sore throat, or respiratory infections
  • Earaches
  • Back pain or body aches
  • Burning with urination
  • Colds or sinus infections
  • Allergies
  • Eye irritation, swelling, or pain
  • Sprains or muscle strains
  • Rashes, minor cuts, or scrapes
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Animal bites


Why it’s better to go to urgent care for non-emergencies

Urgent care centers offer two major benefits:
  1. Urgent care costs less money.  A 2013 study by Truven Health Analytics found that 71% of ER visits were unnecessary or could have been avoided. Not only does misuse of the ER cost more for individual patients, but it also impacts the healthcare system. The cost of any medical visit can vary depending on whether you have health insurance, whether you’ve met your deductible, and what you’re being treated for. Regardless of your insurance, urgent care usually costs less.

    According to Solv Health, a platform that allows patients to book same-day urgent care appointments online, the average cost of an urgent care visit is between $100 and $200. Emergency department visits can range from twice that to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on what you’re treated for. explains, “If you had to use an ambulance service to get to the emergency room, you could be charged anywhere from $25 to as much as $1,200, depending on whether you have insurance and what type of plan you have.”
  2. Urgent care has shorter wait times. When you go to the ER for an illness or injury that could have been treated at urgent care, it causes longer wait times and a spike in cost for individuals and the healthcare system. Hospitals prioritize patients based on the urgency of their illness or injury. So, if you go to an ER for a medical issue that is not a true emergency, be prepared to wait.

    A 2010 report from the American College of Emergency Physicians and Press Ganey showed that the average wait time at a California ER is about 4 hours and 34 minutes. At urgent care, you can generally expect to wait less than an hour. 

While the emergency room will always play an important role in delivering care to patients, urgent care centers give you access to similar care for far less money and time. Californians now have access to hundreds of urgent care centers across the state, which makes getting the care you need easier than ever.

No matter what your age, it’s never too late to start taking care of your heart. When you make healthy adjustments to your diet and physical activity, you’ll start feeling the positive effects right away. 

Get the answers below to some of the most commonly asked heart-healthy questions. 

How can I keep a healthy heart?

Eat heart-healthy foods

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends including heart-healthy foods, monitoring intake of saturated fats, and eliminating foods with trans fats

Saturated fats are a type of fat found predominantly in meat and dairy products and typically turn solid when at room temperature. The AHA recommends that no more than 5-6% of a person’s daily caloric intake come from these fats. 

Trans fats are typically created through artificial processing to help increase the shelf life of certain foods – such as French fries, onion rings, packaged snacks, and baked goods. The AHA recommends eliminating trans fats, as they are associated with increasing LDL (bad) cholesterol, decreasing HDL (good) cholesterol, and increasing risk of type 2 diabetes.

Consider a plant-based diet

Plant-based diets are in the news – for good reason. Research indicates that plant-based diets can reduce risk of heart failure by 42% in people without previously diagnosed heart disease or heart failure. 

Plant-based, whole food diets also greatly reduce dairy, meat, processed foods – keeping saturated fats in check and virtually eliminating trans fats. 

Plant-based diets also have another healthy side effect – they are good for the planet. The commercial meat and dairy industries use more water compared to plant-based agriculture – which means more carbon is emitted to treat and pump water. It’s best to check with your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.

Maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI)

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), obesity is linked with hypertension, heart disease, and high cholesterol. Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) is a good step in keeping your heart healthy. Although your BMI does not measure body fat directly, it offers an easy way to screen for obesity.

The CDC has a handy online calculator you can use to calculate your BMI. However, athletes should note that BMI might not correctly measure fat percentage due to their larger amounts of muscle. 

Practice smart portion control

Practicing smart portion control is one way to keep one’s body fat percentage in a healthy range. This might mean adjusting the serving size or amount of food you put on your plate. 

One smart tip to keep portions smaller is to use smaller plates, bowls, and glassware.

Stay physically active

Staying physically active is another way to maintain a healthy weight and decrease stress. Adding more physical activity, whether substituting walks for food during lunch or taking stairs instead of the elevator, can improve more than just your heart. 

Along with helping control your weight, exercise can also help you get a more restful sleep, improve your mood, and encourage you to connect with friends and family. Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, even just a few minutes of movement is better than none at all. 

Brush and floss daily

Surprisingly, gum disease is also linked with heart disease. Brushing and flossing daily can help reduce gum disease risk – and possibly keep your heart healthy as well. 

What kinds of problems can my heart have?

Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death worldwide. And, even when they don’t cause death, these conditions can leave patients with a lower quality of life. 

What are the risk factors for heart problems? 

Two of the biggest risk factors are smoking and obesity  Smoking harms your entire body, with especially damaging effects on your heart and lungs. Lack of movement can lead to weight gain and studies have shown that extra weight adds stress to your heart.

Is there a link between smoking and heart disease?

Yes. Smoking damages the heart and lungs. It is the top controllable risk factor for heart disease. That means you can do something about it: stop smoking. It’s a big step, but you’re not alone. Check out group therapy and hypnotherapy as well our own Wellvolution® program  to help kick the habit.

What changes to my diet can help my heart?

If your heart is the engine that powers your body, the food you eat and drink is your fuel. Because of this, the American Heart Association recommends small adjustments that can really add up to a healthier diet

  • Add more fish, especially tuna, salmon, sardines, and herring – it’s a better way to include more omega-3 fatty acids than taking fish oil pills.
  • Eat more fiber-rich foods, like beans, oats, apples, pears, and avocados.
  • Include almonds, walnuts, pecans, and other tree nuts in your diet.
  • Limit saturated fats, eliminate trans fats, and monitor your salt intake (steering clear of fast food, packaged snacks, and most fried foods will help you make smarter choices).

Take the time to discover the very latest health news. You’ll discover why more doctors are recommending nutrition over prescriptions. We’ve got smart food tips to keep your heart healthy.

How does losing weight help my heart?

Not only can this help reduce stress – which is also a risk factor for heart disease  – you will also be avoiding artery damage and other problems that come from high-fat diets. 

Is there anything else I can do?

You can have some fun because it’s good for your heart:

  • Catch a funny movie, tell a joke, and keep laughing. You’ll be lowering your stress and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Treat yourself to a piece of chocolate. Eating dark chocolate is a source of flavonoids, a kind of antioxidant that’s also in tea, blueberries, apples, nuts, and red wine. 
  • Spend time with your dog, cat, or just about any kind of pet. If keeping a pet is difficult for you, check your local animal shelter. Many welcome volunteers. You probably know pet owners who gush over how wonderful it is to have a dog or cat in their life. But the health benefits just may surprise you.


Remember: If you have any concerns about your heart or if you experience any sudden changes in your health, speak with your doctor and you can work together to create a plan to meet your health goals.


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