Hospitals around the globe are treating an influx of people with COVID-19 and related symptoms — but that doesn’t mean they’re not treating emergencies, too. If you’re wondering whether it’s safe to seek medical care at a hospital or clinic during the coronavirus pandemic, the answer is a resounding "yes."
While most people are doing their best to avoid the hospital during the coronavirus pandemic, emergency medical situations still happen. If you need to seek medical care during this crisis, it’s important to know where to go for that care and that if you need to go to the emergency room, it is perfectly safe to do so.
“Our hospitals are fully equipped to handle emergencies, including those unrelated to COVID-19,” advises Dr. Kenric Maynor, chair of Geisinger’s Medicine Institute. “We have safety protocols in place and are following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. If you do need to go to the emergency room, not only is it safe to do so, but you are going to receive the same high-level care you’ve always received.”
Know where to go for care
Making the right decisions about your health can be tricky, especially when you aren’t feeling well. And with so many options, it’s not always easy to know where to go for care. One of the most important decisions you can make is where is the most appropriate place to go for care — and whether that’s urgent care, the emergency room or having a telemedicine appointment.
If you aren’t sure whether you should go to the emergency room, try to stay calm and call your family doctor first, if possible. They can assess your symptoms to determine whether you should be seen at the ER or if going to a Geisinger Careworks Convenient Care walk-in clinic may be more appropriate. Just like you don't need a firehose to put out a match, you don't need the ER if your condition isn't a true emergency.
“If you do have an illness or injury, it can be hard to know which type of care you need. By assessing your symptoms, your doctor can help you avoid a potentially unnecessary ER visit (and a long wait) and direct you to the most appropriate care,” Dr. Maynor says.
When to go to the ER
Certain medical conditions require immediate medical care which you should immediately go to the emergency room for — COVID-related or not.
Symptoms that should raise a red flag include:
- Bone breaks
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Fever in a newborn (less than 3 months old)
- Heavy bleeding that can’t be controlled
- Issues with pregnancy
- Loss of consciousness
- Moderate to severe burns
- Seizures and fainting
- Serious fractures
- Serious head, neck or back injuries
- Signs of a heart attack or stroke
- Sudden and severe pain
- Sudden worsening of a chronic condition (like asthma or allergies)
“If you are experiencing a life-threatening condition or health emergency, do not wait,” says Dr. Maynor. “Head to the nearest emergency room or call 911. If you are unsure whether you should make a trip, we would rather you play it safe and come in so you can be evaluated and treated as needed.”
If you’re not sure whether the situation is an emergency, call 911 and ask them to send an ambulance.
When you arrive at Geisinger hospitals, you’ll notice that we have set up temporary outdoor structures to help us identify and treat those who may have COVID-19. These help us better protect our patients and employees throughout the hospital.
When to call 911
Call 911 immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Symptoms of a stroke
- Symptoms of a heart attack
- A life- or limb-threatening injury
These conditions are extremely time-sensitive and require immediate care. If you need immediate medical attention or aren’t able to drive, call 911.
Going to the hospital or a clinic for care
Many people with chronic health conditions, such as cancer or those who need dialysis, also need to seek care or treatment at the hospital or clinic — during COVID-19 or otherwise.
While it safe to do so, there are certain precautions you’ll need to take:
- Plan to wear a face mask when you arrive. Additionally, it’s recommended to wear a mask whenever you leave your home .
- Practice physical distancing. Don’t shake hands and stay at least 6 feet away from others.
- Wash your hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds, especially after visiting public areas. Alcohol-based sanitizers and wipes with at least 60% alcohol are also good options for hand hygiene.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your mouth, nose and eyes.
Following these guidelines whenever you are in public — whether you’re healthy or sick — will help keep you and everyone around you safe and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.
When to visit Careworks Convenient Care urgent care
If you’re having symptoms you think may be related to COVID-19, before you visit a doctor’s office, clinic or emergency room, use our self-screening tool or call your doctor. You can also call Geisinger's hotline at 570-284-3657 for care guidance or to talk with a nurse.
When a different kind of health issue pops up, it can be stressful — and when you can’t wait for care, you may need to decide whether to go to the ER or urgent care.
Head to a walk-in clinic when you aren’t in immediate danger but need help more quickly than you can get an appointment with your primary care physician.
These less-severe symptoms can be treated at any Geisinger Careworks Convenient Care urgent care clinic:
- Cuts that require stitches
- Insect bites or tick removal
- Sinus, ear, urinary and other infections
- Skin rashes or infections
- Sprains and strains
When to use telemedicine
For non-emergencies, a telemedicine visit lets you meet with your doctor from the comfort and safety of your own home.
Telemedicine visits are convenient, require less travel and waiting, and can help keep your health on track during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Geisinger physicians are offering telemedicine visits for routine care, including:
- Sinus infection
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
Our physicians also offer telemedicine visits for specialty care, including:
- Mental health
- Cancer care
- Diabetes care
- And more
Telemedicine visits should not be used in emergency situations. If you need care immediately, call 911 or head to your nearest emergency room.
Extra safety measures we're taking
Geisinger hospitals and clinics are following CDC best practices and guidelines for infection control and prevention so that our facilities are always safe. So there’s no need to avoid our clinics or hospitals whether you’re seeking scheduled or emergency care.
Here are some of the extra precautions we're taking to keep everyone safe:
- Isolating patients with COVID-19 or related symptoms: We have reconfigured our emergency rooms, clinics and hospitals to keep people with COVID-19 or related symptoms in separate, designated areas and units.
- Enhanced COVID-19 screenings: We screen every person who comes into our clinics and hospitals, including staff members. This includes screening for symptoms of respiratory infection (fever, cough, shortness of breath) and checking temperatures, which are taken using no-contact infrared thermometers.
- Mandatory face masking: Each person who enters one of our facilities is required to wear a mask, including all patients, visitors and employees. Don’t have a mask? We’ll have one ready for you when you come in for your appointment or procedure.
- Limiting visitors: To help keep our patients, staff and communities safe, we are temporarily limiting visitors in our hospitals and clinics. See our updated visitor policy.
- Physical (social) distancing: We’ve reconfigured our waiting rooms and exam rooms and expanded the space between chairs so that everyone can stay at least 6 feet apart and practice physical distancing.
- Extra cleaning measures: We are deep-cleaning all of our care sites multiple times a day, following rigorous cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
- Telemedicine virtual visits: To keep your health on track, we’re offering routine, non-emergency care through telemedicine/video visits. It’s the same great care you’re always received, only virtually and from the comfort of your home — you can even stay in your pajamas.
- Expanded appointment times: We’ve added early-morning and evening appointments to accommodate patients with medical conditions that make them more susceptible to illness.
- Free Rx delivery and no-contact curbside pickup: You can get your prescriptions delivered right to your doorstep or opt for curbside pickup at one of our Geisinger Pharmacy locations — for free. Learn more at geisinger.org/pharmacy.
If you do need an appointment, have questions about an upcoming appointment or need to reach your doctor, you can:
- Call our scheduling team at 800-275-6401 or call your clinic’s phone number
- Message your care team through the MyGeisinger patient portal
You can also:
- Use our self-screening tool
- Call our hotline at 570-284-3657 for COVID-19 care-related questions or speak to a nurse about care recommendations.
“It’s normal to feel worried or concerned about your health when visiting a hospital during this pandemic. We’re here to help calm those fears and answer any questions you may have,” says Dr. Maynor.