Ambulance arriving to ER

When to Visit your Doctor, Urgent Care, or the ER

When you or a loved one is sick or injured, you may not be sure whether to see your primary care doctor, visit urgent care, or go to the emergency room (ER).

We want to help you make the best decision based on your insurance coverage, what you may have to pay out of pocket, and whether the site you visit has the resources to help with your situation. If you have questions about where to seek care, call us at 888-499-9303.

When to See Your Primary Care Doctor

Man Looking At A Data Board


If the situation is not an emergency and it is during regular office hours, visiting your primary care doctor is the best option. Your doctor knows you, your medical history, and what medications you take. Having an existing relationship with the doctor may also make it easier for them to fit you in quickly.

Your primary care doctor is the best call for:

  • Skin conditions
  • A cold, the flu, a cough, or a sore throat
  • Low-grade fevers
  • Minor allergic reactions
  • Digestive troubles
  • Sinus pain
  • Vomiting

If you have private insurance, seeing your primary care doctor is also the friendliest choice for your wallet because your co-pay will be less expensive than a trip to the ER. If you don’t currently have a primary care doctor, use our tool to find a doctor who speaks your language and is close to your work or home.

When to Visit Urgent Care

Woman and Her Child in a Doctors Appointment

According to the Urgent Care Association of America, more than 88 million people visit urgent care centers each year.

If your illness or injury is not an emergency, your primary care 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 severe but non-emergency situations.

Urgent care centers are the best call for conditions that include:

  • Sprains and strains
  • 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. Make sure that the urgent care center you visit is in your plan’s network to avoid additional charges.

We have a network of AltaMed and affiliated urgent care centers throughout Southern California. Find one near you now.

When to Go to the ER

Child Receiving Medical Help for Broken Leg

The emergency room is for real medical emergencies—the staff and equipment are there to provide life-saving care for extreme cases. For severe 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 real emergencies. However, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms or conditions above, do not hesitate! Go to the ER.

One Last Note About Medical Treatment Options

Doctor Taking Care of a Man With an Injured Hand

Obviously, if you have a severe cut, are bleeding, or you are suffering a significant bodily injury, GET TO THE ER, STAT! But if you need help figuring out the right place to go for treatment, call AltaMed at 888-499-9303.

Remember that your primary care doctor should always be your first call—they know you best and will ensure that your care is consistent. Leave urgent care and the ER for those times when you are experiencing more serious difficulties or emergencies.

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Emergency Kit

Don’t Be Caught Unprepared: What Goes in an Emergency Kit

Californians are no stranger to emergencies. From earthquakes to wildfires, flash floods to landslides, there’s plenty of reasons to be thinking ahead. Building an emergency kit is a great way to be prepared if disaster strikes. Follow the suggestions below to keep you and your family ready for anything.

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit

The first item in any good emergency kit is a First Aid Kit, which can help treat cuts, scrapes, splinters, or other minor abrasions. Many kits come with a variety of bandages, sterilized gauze, eye drops, tweezers, gloves, antiseptic wipes, and cleaning ointments like Neosporin. You can buy one pre-made at your local drug store or online, or you can purchase the individual items yourself.


Bottles of Water

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends families keep at least one gallon of water per person per day, for at least three days. That means a family of four should have twelve gallons stored away. In addition to staying hydrated, water can be used for sanitation needs.

Canned Foods Can Opener

Different Canned Foods

It’s also important to maintain a three-day supply of non-perishable foods. Canned meats, vegetables, and fruits are recommended, as well as foods like granola bars or peanut butter. Make sure you have an old-fashioned, hand-held can opener as well, since your power may go out. Remember to check your emergency kit once a year and replace any expired goods.

Flashlight & Batteries

Flashlight On

In the event of a power outage, a flashlight will help you and your family safely navigate the area. You can also use it to alert rescuers to your location. Consider packing one flashlight per adult and be sure to add batteries as well.

Dust Mask

Face Mask

FEMA suggests at least one dust mask for every member of your family. These masks will help filter contaminated air in the event of disasters such as wildfires or earthquakes. Keeping smoke, ash, or other hazards particles out of your lungs is extremely important for your long-term health.



If you or a loved one suffers from a medical condition requiring prescription medication, injections, or epi-pens, it’s essential to set aside a small amount in your emergency kit. The American Red Cross recommends at least seven days’ worth of supplies. Over-the-counter pain medications like aspirin or Tylenol will also come in handy.

Multi-Purpose Tool

Multi Purpose Tool

A multi-purpose tool is another worthwhile investment for your emergency kit. Pliers, for example, can be used to turn off utilities before you leave your home. Many of these tools also contain essentials like can openers and screwdrivers. Best of all, these tools take up less space than if you packed all the items separately.

Extra Chargers

Cell Phone Charging with Portable Charger

An extra charger will definitely be useful during any emergency. Like flashlights, add one charger for every adult with a cell phone. Be sure to update chargers as you change devices.


Red and Green Folded Blankets

One to two warm, durable blankets are recommended by the Red Cross to use for protection against outdoor exposure. You can also use sturdy blankets and some duct tape to build a makeshift shelter.


Silver Whistle

Whistles are an easy, effective way to alert rescuers to your location. Because they’re so small, adding multiple whistles to your emergency kit is a no-brainer. 

Tips for Kit Maintenance

Once you’ve finished assembling your emergency kit, remember to:

  • Keep your kit in a cool, dry place. This will help canned goods stay fresh.  
  • Check expiration dates on food and medicine every six months.
  • Review your supplies every year. Has your family grown? Have your needs changed? Adjusting your supplies on a regular basis will help you stay ready for anything. 

Your Emergency Checklist, Compliments of AltaMed

When disaster strikes, we want you to be ready for it. Print out the following checklist and use it to prepare an emergency kit. We hope it doesn't happen, but in the event of an emergency, you can’t be too prepared. 

AltaMed Emergency Kit Checklist

  • Batteries
  • Blankets
  • Canned Foods
  • Can Opener
  • Duct Tape
  • Dust Masks
  • Extra Chargers
  • First Aid Kit
  • Flashlight
  • Water
  • Medications
  • Multi-Purpose Tool
AltaMed smart watches

6 Top Healthy Living Apps for Your Physical & Mental Well-Being

Looking to improve your health? Join the club! Actually, with today’s health apps, you don’t need to. There are more than 318,000 health apps available to help you manage your health. From making smart food choices to exercising, and getting better sleep, these apps help turn health goals into healthy habits. So, grab your water bottle and your smartphone, and check out these six apps that can help you take control of your health.

Omada Health

Available for iOS and Android; Price: free for AltaMed Patients in Orange County
Offers Spanish language option

Senior People in Yoga Class

Omada was created to help users lose weight and lower their risks of getting diabetes and heart disease. Omada provides the tools and support you need to succeed by helping you break up your health goals into small, easy steps. The app allows you to track your meals and activity/exercise, offers lessons on nutrition and stress, and connects you with a health coach to support and guide your progress. Plus, Omada gives AltaMed patients a valuable freebie: a smart scale that connects to the app.


Available for iOS, Android & Samsung; Price: $0
Offers Spanish language option

Girls Doing Exercise Outdoors

Using your phone’s built-in GPS, MapMyWalk tracks your daily walks and uses Google Maps to show you your route. It also collects and shows you your speed, distance, and calories burned. Receive audio updates on how you are doing while you walk, and use the website to see your history, make friends, join groups, and see how your friends are doing.

Pillow (Sleep Tracker)

Available for iOS; Price: $0, one-time fee of $4.99 to unlock premium features
Offers Spanish language option

Senior Couple Sleeping

This easy-to-use app provides detailed information about your sleep cycle to help you get more restful sleep. Simply place your phone on your mattress near your pillow while you sleep and Pillow will track your activity during the night. You can also analyze and record your sleep, heart rate, and audio events such as snoring, sleep talking, or sleep apnea.

Connect to Apple’s Health app to compare your sleep to other health measurements. Pillow’s intelligent alarm clock helps you wake up rested by waking you at the lightest sleep stage. The app comes with features that let you track your mood during the day, and gives you personalized recommendations. Premium features include unlimited access to your sleep history, nap modes, access to a large library of wake-up and sleep-aid programs and melodies, and the ability to export and download your data to use with other programs.

Fooducate (Nutrition & Health Tracker)

Available for iOS; Price: $0, various premium levels available starting at $1.99

Woman in a Fruit and Vegetables Stand

Not only does Fooducate let you track the foods you eat each day, but it educates you on healthy eating choices. The Fooducate app lets you input the foods you eat to learn about their nutritional value by scanning a barcode or searching the extensive database. The app also offers a daily stream of tips and articles to help motivate you on your food journey. Look through the archive of foods, check for top graded food choices, and set individual goals beyond weight loss. Fooducate can even send you a reminder on your phone to use it while you are shopping at the supermarket.

Instant Heart Rate+ HR Monitor

Available for iOS, Android & Windows Phone; Price: $4.99, various premium levels available starting at $3.99
Offers Spanish language option

Cell Phone Showing a Health App

Whether you’re just starting an exercise program or you’ve worked out for years, your heart rate is a good indicator of your fitness level. This straightforward heart rate app lets you discover your heart rate in 10 seconds or less. Just place the tip of your index finger on your phone’s camera and the app will detect color changes in your finger each time your heart beats. It then tells you your heart rate and puts the data in an easy-to-understand chart. Additional add-on features allow you to track heart health, access videos and motivational audio, and receive emails with tips on healthy living. Instant Heart Rate Monitor is used for research and trials by leading cardiologists, and is rated as the world’s best mobile heart rate measurement app.


Available for iOS; Price: $0, one-time fee of $4.99 to unlock premium features

Group of People Cheering Each Other

HabitList is designed to give you everything you need to set and reach your health goals, all wrapped up in a clear, direct format. Enter your goals and the app breaks everything down into clear steps by day and frequency to help you stay focused. The app helps you stay motivated by encouraging you to beat your own personal best at each repeated task, then rewarding you when you do. View trends over a period of time, create a flexible and personalized goal schedule, and easily check off your healthy to-do list.

New to Physical Fitness? Start Here First.

At AltaMed, we love that there are so many tools to help make it fun and easy for people to work on their health goals. But you may have different health needs, and not every activity will be right for you. If you’ve never exercised before or you have an existing health condition like diabetes or heart disease, talk to your doctor before you start a program. They can help you determine the best options for you.

We don’t have an app for that, but we do have a handy doctor search tool to help you find a doctor near you.

When to Visit your Doctor, Urgent Care, or the ER