When to Visit the Emergency Room

Have you ever been unsure if you should go to your doctor or to an emergency room? Here are some tips to help you make that decision.

Seek medical advice before going to the ER. Even if your doctor’s office is closed, call the office. Someone should answer and put you in contact with a doctor if you are not sure about going to the ER. He or she will direct you to the most appropriate place for care: an urgent care center, the doctor’s office or the emergency room.

During regular office visits, ask your doctor about when a trip to the ER is right and when it is not.  Ask if they prefer you call them first under certain circumstances.

Things that usually are not an emergency include:

  • Sore throat
  • Cold or flu
  • Lower back pain
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Small, but not deep, cuts
  • Bruises
  • Aches and moderate pain
  • Earache
  • Sprain
  • Fever (unless there is a seizure)
  • Sunburn or minor burn
  • Being out of prescribed medication

When it’s an Emergency

An emergency is an accident or sudden illness that a person with an average knowledge of medical science believes needs to be treated right away to prevent loss of life, serious medical complications or permanent disability.

How to Know

Examples of emergency conditions can include:

  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Seizure or loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain or squeezing sensation in the chest that does not go away
  • Shortness of breath
  • Suspected overdose or poisoning
  • Sudden paralysis or slurred speech
  • Broken bones
  • Severe pain
  • Obstetrical problems
  • Inability to wake a child up
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Head injury that causes unconsciousness or confusion, or the child is dazed, nauseated, develops an extreme sensitivity to light and/or ringing in the ears

What to Do

Seek medical care immediately. Go directly to the nearest emergency facility or call 911 or your local emergency services number. You do not need a referral from your Primary Care Provider (PCP) for authorization before receiving emergency care.

What to Take

Take the child’s TennCare card, a list of medications, a list of allergies, and any other medical information or history you may have that will help the ER staff treat your child.

How to Follow-up

Call your Primary Care Provider, or have someone call for you, for further assistance and follow-up care. When possible, you should call your PCP within 48 hours of visiting the emergency room. Call sooner if your emergency physician says you should.

Tennessee Poison Control: 1-800-222-1222