Monday, September 12, 2011


Proper use of health centers and emergency departments is crucial

When you are hurt or sick, knowing where to go can be confusing. Making the right decision can save time, money – and lives.

I have seen this confusion firsthand recently at Colchester Backus Health Center. We have had several patients present with serious conditions that required emergency care – drug overdoses, allergic reactions and heart attacks to name a few. These are emergent issues that need to be taken care of in an emergency department.

At the Colchester Backus Health Center and our other health centers in Montville, Plainfield and Ledyard, we do not have the equipment or life-saving drugs required for these situations. We provide “urgent care,” not emergency care.

For minor ailments, health centers are great alternatives, as waits aren’t usually as long (In ERs, more serious cases are treated first) and they can be less costly. We are more like a large doctor’s office than an ER, except we don’t always require an appointment and “walk-in” care, or urgent care, is available.

In addition to scheduled primary care visits, lab tests, diagnostic imaging tests, physicals and flu shots, here are some urgent care examples that health centers can treat:

• Minor broken bones
• Strains and sprains
• Mild asthma attacks
• Infections
• Cuts
• Minor burns and rashes
• Sore throats and flu-like symptoms

While there is a national effort to reduce improper use of emergency rooms, if you have a true emergency you should go to the closest ER. This can mean the difference between life and death.

True emergencies include:

• Abdominal pain
• Allergic reactions
• Drug overdose
• Chest pain
• Heavy bleeding
• Severe troubles breathing
• Serious burns
• Head injuries
• Spinal injuries
• Loss of consciousness
• Severe wounds.

For many medical conditions, your primary care provider or local health center are perfect alternatives for healthcare. But hospital emergency departments, such as The Backus Emergency Care and Trauma Center in Norwich, have specialized equipment and expertly trained staff to take care of you when a true emergency occurs.

Clark Adams is a Physician’s Assistant at the Colchester Backus Health Center. The information in this column
should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Mr. Adams or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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