Be aware of options when holiday medical care is needed

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Randall Castor

You're carving your Christmas ham and inadvertently slice your finger. Or maybe you slip off the ladder while putting up decorations in your yard.

It wasn't so long ago that the emergency room was your only choice if your primary care physician wasn't available. Today, you might be able to get less expensive and more convenient treatment, depending on your medical condition.

Options for immediate care range from virtual visits in your home via smart phone, tablet or computer, to neighborhood urgent care clinics.

To help you decide where you should seek care, here's a rundown of the conditions that can be treated with each level of health care service.

Video visits: Online medical services, like Beaufort Memorial's BMH Care Anywhere, offer "face time" with a primary care provider for minor medical issues like a cough, cold, flu, rash, minor burn, pinkeye, sinus infection, sore throat and urinary tract infection. This telehealth service can be accessed 24/7 from anywhere. The service is also available in the Publix pharmacy on Buckwalter Parkway in Bluffton during pharmacy hours.

Walk-in care: Sometimes called urgent care or immediate care centers, most walk-in clinics offer same-day treatment for minor illnesses and injuries, including lacerations, ear pain, bronchitis, asthma or COPD flare ups, urinary tract infections and vomiting. Many of these facilities are also able to take X-rays.

Emergency room: Call 911 immediately if it's a life-threatening emergency. For a broken bone, serious injury, severe burn, abdominal pain or a condition requiring an X-ray, CT scan or ultrasound, you'll also need to go to the ER.

If it's a non-life-threatening condition, many ERs now allow you to schedule an appointment online and skip the waiting room.

A couple of caveats: When a person is having a stroke, every second counts. The American Stroke Association suggests using the FAST warning signs to determine if emergency services should be called.

FAST is an acronym for: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Slurred speech, Time to call 911.

Chest pain can be complicated to diagnose and needs to be evaluated promptly. Most immediate care or walk-in care clinics are equipped to perform an EKG and X-ray but it's more likely than not that your attending physician might refer you to the ER for further testing.

If you have risk factors for cardiac disease or you also experience pain in your jaw or arm, shortness of breath, sweating or nausea, call 911 immediately.

You should also call an ambulance if you:

• Can't stop a wound from bleeding.

• Are vomiting blood.

• Have rectal bleeding or bloody diarrhea with fever.

• Experience the sudden onset of a severe headache.

• Fall and hit your head.

• Have an allergic reaction that causes difficulty breathing or your tongue or lips to swell.

While the holidays can be a joyous time, it also offers the potential for accidents, injuries and illness. Whether it's a cut, sprain, food poisoning or the flu, getting medical treatment doesn't have to ruin your fun. With today's expanded health care options, help is just around the corner.

Best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season!

Dr. Randall Castor, a board-certified Family Medicine specialist, is medical director for Beaufort Memorial Express Care and Occupational Health in Bluffton.

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