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ER, urgent care, or family doctor: how to decide fast when health emergencies happen

Dr. William Musick said his decades in the ER have taught him that people all handle health crises differently: some wait to go to their primary care physician, others go to urgent care, and still others go to the emergency room. (KRCG)

Injuries and illnesses do not always occur during your physician's normal office hours - and when that happens, it can be hard to know where to go for treatment. In this week's Family First segment, KRCG 13 spoke with SSM Health Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. William Musick on how to weigh your options when the unexpected happens.

Dr. Musick said his decades in the ER have taught him that people all handle health crises differently: some wait to go to their primary care physician, others go to urgent care, and still others go to the emergency room. He said there are pros and cons for each choice.

"Your primary care physician is going to be more scheduled usually. Their office is busy, they might have backlogs. It might take weeks... and some problems don't wait weeks. But they're going to be the people who know you best, they're going to be the people who keep you healthy," he said.

Dr. Musick said going to an urgent care or the emergency room also comes with benefits and drawbacks.

"You can get in during off-hours at either of those places," he said. "However, emergency rooms are equipped to handle more issues than urgent care. For example, if you break a bone badly, the emergency center would have someone on call who could do surgery if you needed it." Dr. Musick said if you're at all worried that your condition could be life threatening, you should always come to the emergency center first.

He said your primary care physician and urgent care will both be less expensive than the emergency room; but sometimes, you have to trust your gut.

"It probably comes down to whether YOU believe it's potentially dangerous, because there's times when I can't even tell when a person walks in the door. We think it's not gonna be something bad, and then it turns out to be something bad," he said.

When it's a matter of life and death, Dr. Musick said your health always comes first - no matter the cost.

"Finances are important for everybody, but our ER is gonna take care of you whether you can pay or not," he said. "Everybody that walks through our Emergency Center door is going to be treated the same way. You're going be treated before we can even ask you if you can pay or not."

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