As hospitals remain inundated with patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are having trouble receiving the medical care they need. Instead of heading to the ER for a medical emergency, considering alternative facilities and health care services may help patients get concerns addressed in a timely manner.

What You Need To Know

  • The Erie County Department of Health and local hospitals are reminding residents of alternatives to visiting emergency rooms for medical concerns

  • Some alternatives include primary care physicians, specialty care facilities, and urgent care centers

  • Beyond the scope of the pandemic, many primary care providers are equipped to handle specific patient needs better than larger hospitals

  • Alternatives like telehealth appointments have proven safer and more convenient during the pandemic than visiting the emergency room

The Erie County Department of Health is working with local hospitals to remind patients that visiting their primary care providers or urgent care centers can be quicker, safer and more effective alternatives during the pandemic. In fact, many primary care physicians are equipped to treat issues that people most commonly seek emergency care for.

“What we find is that a lot of the individuals that went to the emergency room usually go during office hours,” said Raul Vazquez, M.D, president and CEO of Urban Family Practice. “That’s the crazy part, they go during office hours and the things that they’re going into that ER for during office hours are office medical problems.”

In addition to smaller clinics, the ECDOH recommends utilizing telehealth services, which have proven to be safer means of addressing medical concerns if immediate in-person attention is not needed. Many medical facilities are offering these services.

“It’s been a huge advantage for a lot of our patients,” said Christopher Biondolillo, M.D., medical director of Neighborhood Health Center. “Not only as a means of preventing high volume in crowded spaces and person-to-person transmission, but also getting access to a medical professional for people who don’t have transportation or can’t leave the house because they have child care issues.”

Primary care providers note that while their services are being pointed out as “alternatives,” they have personal investments in the residents of their communities, both within and outside of the scope of the pandemic.

“This is a systemic issue that starts with public support of primary care in general, which means training primary care doctors, incentivizing primary care practitioners in the community,” Biondolillo said.

“You have to take the fight to the streets and you can’t let the fight come to you, and that’s what primary care and public health and behavioral health does,” Vazquez said. “We take the fight right in the streets in the communities, because then they recognize you. They understand you. They trust you. You look like them. Those are pieces that hospitals will never be able to accomplish.”