Ask the Experts

Health and Hospitals

I’m 19 years old, and I’ve never been to a hospital. I mean, I must have been to one when I was born, but I’ve been very lucky in terms of health and injury and stuff. I go to the doctor every once in a while, but I’ve never broken a bone or gotten really, really sick, or anything like that. I know this is all good stuff, but I feel weirdly concerned about it, because I really don’t know anything about hospitals or when I should go to one.

I know this is kind of a weird question, but: when are you supposed to go to the hospital? When do you do that instead of going to your regular doctor? What do I do when I show up–do I just go to the emergency room? Or would I be arriving in an ambulance? Sorry if this is a dumb question.

There are no dumb questions–the experts are here to answer them all! And your question is a good one, because many people may not realize that they aren’t aware of the procedures and decision-making processes they may need to use in the event of an emergency.

The short answer, says administration at New York’s Carthage Hospital, is that you may go to the hospital for a wide variety of reasons. For instance, you may have scheduled surgery, or your doctor may tell you that you need inpatient care at a hospital for an illness or injury. In these cases, medical professionals will tell you why you need to go to the hospital, and where and when to show up.

But there is, of course, one type of situation in which you may head to the hospital without being told: an emergency. In those cases, say practitioners at Richmond University Medical Center’s Staten Island Immediate Care Center, you want to head to the emergency room.

The emergency room is exactly what it sounds like: the place to go to in an emergency. There’s no one definition of a medical emergency, but you’ll most likely know it when you experience it! If you have a painful injury like a broken bone, a dangerous issue like excessive bleeding, or a very sudden illness, you’ll know that you’re in a situation when timely care is of the essence. And when you don’t want to be waiting around, the emergency room is the place to be: American emergency rooms serve 32.2 percent of patients in less than 15 minutes and strive to treat all patients quickly while prioritizing the most dire cases.

There are also, of course, “urgent care” facilities–medical offices that exist to treat and diagnose people quickly, but which are not a substitute for the emergency room. But experts say it’s not too tough to decide whether your situation merits a trip to an urgent care center or the emergency room. If you have a fever (but no rash), a sore throat, an earache, or any other painful and immediate (but clearly not immediately life-threatening) issue, the urgent care center is for you. Issues with bleeding, breathing, and other scary stuff? Better safe than sorry: head to the ER!

In general, things are pretty simple: if you don’t have a medical emergency, you can head to your regular doctor or specialist and trust him or her to tell you if you need to schedule surgery or visit a hospital for care or treatment. In an emergency, you can head to the emergency room for immediate care. As large and complex as hospitals are, things aren’t too confusing when it comes to taking advantage of hospital care.

“The first wealth is health.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Lissette Harwood is a Former Content Director at District Confidential.