Knowing how and when to seek emergency care

When facing an unexpected medical condition, some people think first of the hospital emergency room. But this may not be your best choice.

At the emergency room, true life-and-death emergencies are treated first. Other cases must wait – sometimes for hours. Except in a true emergency, it is usually better (and faster) to be treated by your primary care provider (PCP).

When to go to the emergency room

The American College of Emergency Physicians recommends you seek emergency room care for conditions, such as:

  • Compound fracture (bone protrudes through skin)
  • Convulsions, seizures or loss of consciousness
  • Deep wounds
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Moderate to severe burns
  • Poisoning
  • Serious head, neck or back injury
  • Severe abdominal or chest pain
  • Severe difficulty breathing
  • Loss of vision, sudden numbness, weakness, slurred speech or confusion (signs of stroke)
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings

However, the emergency room usually isn’t a good substitute for a primary care visit if your condition is not an emergency. You may be able to get an appointment at your doctor’s office for your concern and/or get your question answered over the phone without an appointment. If you have a concern that might not be a true emergency, call your doctor’s office first. Always let your PCP know what is happening with you. They can help you get your needs met, hopefully with them in the office. Even if you do need to get emergency care, it is always important to see your PCP for follow-up after your visit.

How to seek medical care after hours (evenings, weekends and holidays)

Your Columbia Pacific CCO PCP looks after your care any time of the day or night. Even if your primary care provider’s office is closed, call the clinic’s phone number. You will speak with someone who will contact your provider or give you advice about what to do. When your provider is not in the office, they will arrange for another provider to be available to give you care and advice.

All Columbia Pacific CCO members have a primary care provider. You can choose one or we will assign one to you. This could be a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. If you need help finding a provider in your area, call Customer Service (toll-free) at 1-855-722-8206 or 503-488-2822 or go to



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