Rhode Islanders Urged to Seek Medical Care in the Most Appropriate Setting

With Rhode Island seeing increases in cases of the flu and other seasonal viruses, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is reminding all Rhode Islanders to seek medical care in settings where they will be most appropriately treated. People who do not need emergency care should avoid going to emergency departments.

Many illnesses and injuries do not require an emergency department visit, including routine cases of the flu in people who are not at risk of developing flu-related complications from underlying medical conditions. These cases of the flu are often more quickly (and just as effectively) treated by a primary care provider or in an urgent care facility than in an emergency department. However, some people are more likely to get complications from the flu that should be treated in an emergency department. A list of those at high-risk of developing flu-related complications can be found on the website of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (see link below). Emergency warning signs of flu sickness that indicate a need to go to the emergency department include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; pain or pressure in the chest; and having flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough. A full list of emergency warning signs of flu sickness in infants, children, and adults can be found on the CDC’s website (see link below).

If someone is not sure if they need to go to the emergency department, they should contact their primary care provider. A primary care provider can give you guidance about the next best step for you or your child, and most offices have physician on-call after hours. RIDOH has a list of primary care providers online (see link below).

“Emergency departments are perfect for emergency situations. If someone is experiencing a serious health issue, they should absolutely call 911 or go to an emergency department right away. However, emergency departments treat patients with the most serious health issues first, which means that people with less severe conditions may experience long waits,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. “Keep the phone number for your primary care provider handy and know where your nearest urgent care facility is. An urgent care facility, or other type of express care facility is often a more convenient, less expensive option.”

RIDOH has information and lists online [health.us5.list-manage.com] for urgent care facilities, community health centers, and other express care facilities in the state.

Examples of health issues that are often better treated by a primary care provider or in an urgent care facility include:

– Less severe cases of the flu
– Back pain
– Minor cuts
– Sore throats
– Low-grade fevers
– Most cases of norovirus

Norovirus is a highly contagious stomach illness that can cause people to have extreme vomiting or diarrhea for 24-28 hours. Norovirus is found in the stool and vomit of an infected person and can spread by eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus; touching surfaces or objects that are contaminated with norovirus; or if an infected person vomits in a public space.

Other steps that people should take to keep themselves healthy and safe from the flu, norovirus, and other viruses include:

– Get vaccinated against the flu. The flu is in Rhode Island every year through the end of the spring. By being vaccinated now, you can still get several months of protection.
– Cough or sneeze into your elbow.
– Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers, and always before eating or preparing food.
– Stay home if you are sick and keep children home from school if they are sick.
– After an episode of illness that involves vomiting or diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a bleach-based household cleaner as directed on the product label or a solution made by adding 525 tablespoons of household bleach to one gallon of water.
– If you have norovirus, do not prepare food for other people until three days after your symptoms clear.

For more information, people can call 401-222-5960 or visit http://www.health.ri.gov

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