AltaMed Urgent Care

When to Go to Urgent Care vs. The ER

When you or a loved one is experiencing a health emergency, it can be difficult to know when it’s best to go to an urgent care center or the emergency room (ER). That’s why it’s important to know the appropriate choice for every situation.

When to Visit Urgent Care

According to the Urgent Care Association of America, more than 89 million people visit urgent care centers each year.

If your illness or injury is not life-threatening emergency and your doctor’s office is closed (nights, weekends, holidays), and/or you believe the situation cannot wait, urgent care is your best option. Urgent care centers have the equipment to handle serious but non-life-threatening emergencies and provide high-quality care.

Urgent care centers are the best call for conditions like:

  • Breathing problems
  • Skin conditions
  • Severe cold, cough and flu
  • Sprains and strains
  • Back, muscle and body aches
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Broken bones that have not broken the skin
  • Minor cuts or rashes
  • Animal bites
  • High fevers
  • Pneumonia
  • Ear infections
  • Urinary infections

With private insurance, visiting an urgent care center will cost you more than seeing your regular doctor, but can save you hundreds of dollars (or more) over an ER visit. AltaMed has a network of in-house and affiliated urgent care centers throughout Southern California. Find one near you now.

As an AltaMed patient, you can also access immediate telehealth appointments through AltaMed Now, plus schedule and manage routine care services, such as general health checkups, though MyAltaMed.

When to Go to the ER

The emergency room is for life threatening emergencies — the staff and equipment are there to provide life-saving care for severe cases. For life-threatening medical situations, you can call 911 or visit an emergency room. Most hospital emergency rooms are open 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

The ER is the correct destination if you or a loved one is experiencing:

  • A severe injury or major trauma, including a severe cut or burn
  • Overdose
  • Stroke or heart attack
  • Loss of consciousness
  • A seizure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Dizziness and loss of coordination
  • A head injury
  • Broken bones that puncture the skin
  • Heavy bleeding

Depending on what kind of insurance you have, a trip to the ER can cost you thousands of dollars, so be sure to reserve these visits for life-threatening emergencies. However, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms or conditions above, do not hesitate! Go to the ER.

Keep It Simple

Urgent care services are not a replacement for primary care. When you need routine medical care your primary care doctor should always be your first option. They know you best and will ensure that your care is consistent. However, urgent care and the ER are available to you for those times when you are experiencing more sudden or serious medical conditions.

Obviously, if you have a severe cut, are bleeding, or you are suffering a significant bodily injury, GET TO THE ER, STAT! In less dire situations, AltaMed has you covered through our vast network of urgent care locations. If you need help figuring out the right option for you, call us at (888) 499-9303.

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Protect Yourself from Fall Infections

As the leaves change color and the air turns crisper, it’s only natural to get excited for fall. And while there’s plenty to look forward to, the change in seasons also brings a host of infectious diseases that can threaten our well-being. Protecting yourself and your loved ones from illnesses like the flu, COVID-19, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is important. The good news is that vaccinations, along with simple safety measures, can protect your health and the health of those around you.

Understanding Fall Infections


  • Influenza (Flu) — The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, and fatigue. The flu can lead to hospitalization, and even death, particularly in vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children, and individuals with underlying health conditions.
  • COVID-19 — The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the world, and the virus continues to affect communities globally. The symptoms of COVID-19 vary widely, from mild respiratory symptoms to severe respiratory distress. Vaccination against COVID-19 is a crucial step in reducing transmission and preventing serious illness and hospitalization.
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus — RSV is a common respiratory virus that can cause mild, cold-like symptoms in adults and older children. However, it can lead to severe respiratory infections in infants and young children, older adults, and people with chronic health conditions. RSV can cause bronchiolitis and pneumonia, requiring hospitalization in some cases.

Why Vaccination Matters

Getting vaccinated against these fall infections is a proactive measure that benefits both individuals and the community at large. Here's why it's crucial:

  • Protection for You — Vaccines provide immunity against diseases, reducing your risk of falling ill and experiencing severe complications. That means you won’t miss the best that fall has to offer.
  • Protection for Others — By getting vaccinated, you contribute to herd immunity. This shields those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical conditions or age, preventing the spread of infections within the community.
  • Prevent Overwhelmed Health Care Systems — Vaccination helps reduce the burden on health care systems, ensuring that hospitals can effectively treat those who require medical attention.

Why The Fall?

The timing of vaccination matters. Experts recommend getting vaccinated against the flu, COVID-19, and RSV in September or October. Here's why:

  • Flu vaccine — The flu typically starts circulating in the fall and peaks during the winter months. By getting vaccinated in September or October, your body has time to build immunity before the flu season hits its peak.
  • COVID-19 vaccine COVID-19 is still a concern, and vaccination remains a primary tool in controlling its spread. By getting vaccinated this fall, (even if you have been vaccinated in the past) will help minimize the risk of contracting or spreading the virus during gatherings or indoor activities.
  • RSV protection — RSV transmission tends to increase during the fall and winter. Vaccinating against RSV before these seasons begin can offer protection to vulnerable populations, particularly infants, young children, and seniors.

Other Safety Methods

Beyond vaccinations, taking simple precautions each day will help you and your family stay protected. Be sure to:

  • Wash your hands, thoroughly — Lather with soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds before rinsing to ensure a proper wash.
  • Carry hand sanitizer — Apply hand sanitizer regularly when running errands. Travel-size containers are available at drug and grocery stores.
  • Isolate when sick — If you or someone you live with shows signs of illness, avoid unnecessary exposure to others. That means rescheduling plans, keeping kids home from school, and delaying errands until symptoms disappear.
  • Wipe down surfaces Use a cleaning spray or alcohol wipe on high-touch items like water bottles, lunch boxes, and handbags.  

We Have Your Back

As fall approaches, prioritize your health and the health of those around you. Vaccination is a key strategy in the fight against infectious diseases. By getting vaccinated in September or October, you're taking an active step toward a healthier and safer season.

All the vaccinations the CDC recommends are available at AltaMed, most at no cost to you.

It’s more important than ever to stay safe and healthy. Call us at (888) 499-9303 to schedule an appointment with your provider and stay on track to prevent these viruses from affecting you and your loved ones.

Disaster Plan

Be Ready the Next Time Disaster Strikes

Californians are too familiar with disasters. Wildfires, floods, mudslides, and earthquakes are all part of living in California

The Federal Emergency Management Agency ranks California as the second-most disaster-prone state after Texas with 336 major disasters between 1953 and 2020. That includes the 2020 wildfires that burned more than 4 million acres.

Everyone needs to have a plan for coping with an emergency. In some cases — like wildfires, floods, and storms — you have a little time to prepare. Disasters like earthquakes can strike without warning.

Here are some important ways you can be ready.

Woman Preparing Emergency Medications

First-Aid Kits

Every household should have one. If not, start putting one together. You can buy some kits pre-assembled. You can also buy what you need piece by piece. Regardless of how you do it, remember it’s for emergencies. Try not to use the contents unless there is an emergency, otherwise you might not have what you need when disaster occurs.

Basics should include:

  • Two pairs of sterile gloves
  • Sterile dressings
  • Soap and antibiotic towelettes for disinfecting
  • Antibiotic ointment to prevent infection
  • Bandages in a variety of sizes
  • Eye wash
  • Thermometer
  • Medicine dropper
  • First-aid book
  • Pain reliever, antacids, anti-diarrhea medication, laxatives or other over the counter drugs
Woman Shopping Bottled Water

Earthquake preparations

The best time to prepare for any disaster is before it happens. It’s best to prepare ahead of time, especially for earthquakes, given their unpredictability. Part of those preparations should include a communications plan. Make sure there is an out-of-state contact you can alert. You should also plan where to meet if you are separated from family.

In addition to a first-aid kit, your supply kit should have a gallon of water per person per day, non-perishable food for several days, a flashlight, fire extinguisher, and a whistle.

Buying all these items at once can be expensive, so buy them over time and put them in a durable bag or plastic bin that’s easy to access.

If you are in an earthquake, you should:

  • Pull over if driving and set your parking brake.
  • Turn face down and cover your neck and head with a pillow if you’re in bed.
  • Stay outdoors if that’s where you are and get away from buildings.
  • Make sure to avoid doorways if you’re inside during an earthquake. Don’t run outside. Crawl under a table if possible.
Kit Emergency Prep

More Emergency Kit Musts

Having emergency kit items in your house is good. Assembling them in a kit is better. Putting items in airtight plastic bags and putting those bags in a storage bin or duffel bag is the best.

A disaster could leave you without power, water, or cellular service. You will need to be self-sufficient for several days. So, have:

  • Water — at least three gallons per person
  • Food — three days of non-perishable energy bars, canned fruit, canned juices, comfort snacks
  • Extra doses of medications that your family regularly needs
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
  • A weather radio with tone alerts
  • Flashlight
  • First-aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle
  • Dust masks
  • Plastic sheets and duct tape
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, plastic ties, and hygiene products
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener
  • Local maps
  • Portable cell phone chargers and backup batteries

Always Here for You

AltaMed is here for you regardless of the circumstances. We provide primary care, urgent care, behavioral health servicespediatrics, dentistry, health screenings, women’s health, and much more.

Call (877) 462-2582 and get started with us today.


When to Go to Urgent Care vs. The ER