By Megan Wehring
As the rate of respiratory viruses is increasing throughout the nation, patients may not fully understand where to go to receive care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that from Oct. 1 to Nov. 19, there have been 6.2 to 14 million flu illnesses, 3 to 7 million flu medical visits, 53,000-110,000 flu hospitalizations and 2,900-8,400 flu deaths. Influenza-like illness, defined medical visits for fever and cough or sore throat were high or very high in 35 states through Nov. 19, according to the CDC.
Dr. Karen Smith, a family practice physician for Baylor Scott & White, said that the first step to receiving care when you get sick is visiting your primary care doctor.
“If not that, you can go to their partner doctors in the office, nurse practitioners or physician assistants that work with them,” Smith said. “[They] know them and how they take care of patients. Then, if you are lucky to be part of a system like Baylor Scott & White that has extended hour care [or]regional hubs for urgent care, go to one of those.”
She added that it’s important to find a primary care doctor when people are not sick.
“Creating a relationship with a primary care doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant is really important for a lot of reasons,” Smith explained. “But number one, it gives you access when you are sick and if you can do that, they can guide you through the system. That becomes your medical home.”
Smith highly advises patients to stay out of the ER if they are not undergoing an emergency.
“The ER is not a place for the flu because it spreads,” Smith said.
Smith said that patients should go to the ER if they have the following:
• Difficulty breathing
• Can’t keep food down
• Feeling weak
• Chest pains
“Go to the ER if it feels like an emergency,” Smith said. “If you know you have risk factors, like diabetes or years of smoking, remember that but try to use your doctor’s office for regular illnesses, even flu or COVID, unless you are having dangerous symptoms. That will help us to save our ERs for people whose lives are really in danger.”