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When Should I Book and Urgent Appointment

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Patients often ask about situations in which it is appropriate to book an urgent appointment.  It can be a challenging question to answer due to differences in patient and physician expectations.  There are many symptoms in which there are no black and white rules. Some symptoms may appear scarier than others and appear urgent, even though the diagnosis is relatively benign. Meanwhile, some symptoms can only be managed at an Emergency Room, even though they may not be true emergency situations (e.g. dislocated shoulder, broken bones), as they require prompt access to certain tests or treatments that are not available at the office.

The Legal Stuff

The following is general medical information and is not intended to be used as medical advice.  

It is intended as a general guide to help you to decide - based on your medical concern - when to go to the hospital, when to book an urgent appointment at the office, and when to book a non-urgent appointment with your doctor.  

IF IT IS AN EMERGENCY, PLEASE CALL 911


If you or your loved one’s symptoms are debilitating or rapidly changing, please call 911. WebMD has a good summary on deciding when to call 911.

Medical Emergencies

Please note that if you have an emergency that requires immediate care you should go directly to the nearest Emergency Room, or call 911, as appropriate for your concern.

Some examples of reasons to seek immediate care include (but are not limited to):

  • Severe chest pains (especially if it radiates down your arm) or racing heartbeat
  • Significant shortness of breath/difficulty breathing
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Sudden difficulty speaking, slurred speech, or trouble understanding speech
  • Sudden eyesight changes (e.g. blurry or double vision, loss of vision in all or part of your eye)
  • Sudden and new irregular heart beat (palpitations)
  • New confusion or memory problems
  • Vomiting and inability to drink fluids
  • Heavy, uncontrollable bleeding due to an injury that does not stop after constant pressure for 10 minutes
  • Eye injuries
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Major changes in mental status or confusion
  • Fever/severe pain that is not improved with acetaminophen/ibuprofen (i.e. Tylenol/Advil)
  • Serious injuries (i.e. bleeding that won’t stop, deep cuts, head injury)
  • Possible major broken bones (i.e. bones or joints look different, cannot put weight on injury)
  • Major trauma / impact to the head, neck, or back
  • Inability to walk
  • New or worsening seizures
  • Pregnancy and labour problems
  • Loss of consciousness (if preceded by or followed by an injury)
  • Sudden testicular pain and swelling, usually on one side
  • Newborn baby (less than 3 months old) with a fever greater than 38 degrees C
  • Moderate to serious burns

We understand that emergency rooms currently have long wait times, however, when experiencing the symptoms above you should go to the ER. In this circumstance we recommend NOT booking with your family physician, as they will likely provide the same advice of going to the ER.

Urgent Medical Concerns

Arbour Family Medical is not an urgent care centre.

We do not have on-site access to diagnostic imaging (e.g. x-rays) or laboratory services. If you’re concerned about a broken bone, or it’s obvious that something is broken, please go directly to the emergency room.
 

Examples of when to book an urgent appointment:
  • Eye irritation (without changes to your vision)
  • Ear aches
  • Sore throats, coughs, and colds that are not improving after several days
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea, where you can keep some liquid down
  • Loss of consciousness (fainting), if there is no associated injury
  • Mild to moderate breathing difficulties (e.g. mild to moderate asthma)
.
  • Minor sprains and strains
  • Moderate back pain
  • Sexually transmitted infection symptoms
  • Cuts where the bleeding is controlled, but may need a few stitches (cuts to the face should
  • generally go to the emergency room)
  • Minor burns
  • Rapidly progressing skin rashes without fever

To book an urgent appointment, go to your physician’s booking page and review the urgent appointments with your own physician, and the urgent appointments with an on-call MD.

If an urgent appointment is not available on your physician’s booking page, or with the on-call MD, please also consider the options on our emergency resources page, which provides guidance about external urgent care centers.

Non-urgent Medical Concerns

In general, almost all new medical concerns require an appointment for assessment. If your concern does not fall under (or near) the lists above, you can likely book a non-urgent appointment with your physician.

Examples of when to book a non-urgent appointment:

  • Medical symptoms that have already been present for several weeks or longer, and have not changed
  • If you think you have a non-urgent concern that might require an appointment with a specialist
  • Renewing long standing medications (e.g. blood pressure medications, birth control etc.) - your pharmacist can also renew your medications for a limited time so that you don't run out before you see your doctor
  • Work note requests and other paperwork requests
  • Long standing periodic or routine injections (ex. B12, Depo-Provera, Testosterone etc.)
  • Requests for sexually transmitted infection screening if you have no symptoms or concerns
  • Preventative care (Pap tests, preventative health checks, etc)

To book a non-urgent appointment, we recommend going to your physician’s homepage and book a non-urgent appointment.

In many cases your physician will have specialized appointment types for different concerns, or guidance to follow without needing an appointment, in some cases.

Trust Your Instincts

If you are unsure about where to go, trust your gut.  
If your instincts are telling you that it’s an emergency, then please go to the Emergency Room. 

If you want non-emergency medical advice, you are always free to call Telehealth Ontario.  A Registered Nurse is able to take your call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Please keep in mind that Telehealth Ontario does not have access to your medical records.  


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Arbour Family Medical Centre offers comprehensive health care services for the whole family.

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