Ambulance at an emergency room at night

Deciding when to go to the hospital or seek medical care can be a challenge, particularly in the age of COVID. You may find yourself afraid to go, even when it's necessary.

Keeping yourself healthy means addressing health problems as they arise. This includes getting evaluated by your primary care physician, perhaps via telemedicine, or going to an urgent care or emergency room (ER) when appropriate.

Yet recognizing when it is appropriate can be difficult. It is important to know the symptoms of a medical emergency.

When it comes to COVID, understanding what types of services are available for patients with COVID symptoms in an ER and how to recognize serious COVID symptoms could save you a trip to the emergency room.

Learn More: When to Go to the Hospital for COVID

When to Go to the ER

Minimizing non-emergency visits to the ER can help hospitals ensure that they can treat those most in need of emergency care.

Symptoms of a Medical Emergency

Symptoms that may indicate a life-threatening emergency include:

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
  • Fainting, sudden dizziness or weakness
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion or changes in mental status
  • Any sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Difficulty speaking

Getting urgent help when needed is especially important for strokes and heart attacks. Outcomes for these medical emergencies are tied to how quickly the patient receives care, so delaying treatment due to coronavirus fears can have serious consequences.

People with existing medical conditions that increase the likelihood of experiencing a medical emergency should speak with their doctor about managing their condition during the pandemic.

Going to the Hospital for COVID

What Are Your Symptoms?

A positive COVID test, even with mild to moderate symptoms, does not necessarily mean a trip to the emergency department is needed. Most people who have COVID experience mild symptoms that can be treated at home.

However, some people, particularly those who have underlying conditions, may experience more serious symptoms of COVID that do require treatment at a hospital These serious symptoms include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or can't be woken up
  • Lips or face turning blue

If you have questions about your symptoms, call your doctor or talk to a registered nurse through the UMMS Nurse Call Line.

If your symptoms are life-threatening, call 911 or go to the ER right away.

COVID Testing and Treatment in the Emergency Department

  • Testing for COVID is reserved for patients with serious symptoms, those who are to be admitted or others as determined by the ED staff. People who have mild to moderate COVID symptoms or are asymptomatic and seeking a test should contact their primary care provider or explore other COVID testing options using the state's COVID testing resources.
  • Monoclonal antibody treatment, an infusion therapy that treats mild to moderate COVID, is not available in University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) emergency departments.

Learn more about COVID treatment options from the Maryland Department of Health.

When to Seek Urgent Care

Urgent care centers can offer immediate care for many conditions. Some can even offer telemedicine. Common conditions treated at urgent care centers include:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Broken bones
  • Cold and flu symptoms
  • Concussion symptoms
  • Cuts requiring stitches
  • Insect bite
  • Mild fevers
  • Minor burns
  • Pink eye
  • Sprains and strains

Before you go, call or check the website of the urgent care you've chosen for updates to hours or the services they provide.

When to Go to the Doctor

Beyond emergency care, health problems that are treated earlier do much better than health problems that are treated later. Sometimes irreversible damage can occur when you delay care. For example, wounds that are not appropriately cared for become infected or need more extensive procedures than they would have otherwise.

While it's important to continue social distancing as much as possible, you should still go to the doctor's office for regularly scheduled wellness exams. For example, it is important to attend exams where a child will be getting routine vaccinations to protect them against other viruses and bacteria in the community.

Depending on the situation, your primary care doctor may provide you an in-person visit or a telehealth evaluation. Contact your doctor to find out what type of visit might be appropriate. You can use MyPortfolio to communicate with your UMMS provider.

Telemedicine Visits

A telehealth evaluation can address some non-urgent health concerns, including routine appointments, wound evaluations and medication refills or adjustments.

Many UMMS physicians and urgent care centers have the ability to evaluate you via telemedicine, which means you don't need to leave your home for a doctor evaluation.

If you have a health question, scheduling a telemedicine appointment can be an option for non-emergency situations. Contact your physician to learn more about the best options for your specific health needs.

Hospital Safety During Coronavirus

Hospitals across the nation are facing challenges due to the pandemic. Despite this, hospitals are still safe places to come to for care.

There are a number of measures that University of Maryland Medical System hospitals are taking to keep you safe. Some of these include:

Updated 12/29/2021


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