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Where to Go for Medical Care

In non-emergency situations, your first choice should be your primary care provider (PCP). Your PCP knows your medical history and treats common ailments. Urgent care is best when you need medical attention for a non-life threatening illness quickly or after regular hours. Go to the emergency room if your illness is serious or life-threatening, such as:

  • Choking
  • Stopped breathing
  • Head injury with passing out, fainting, or confusion
  • Injury to neck or spine, especially if there is loss of feeling or inability to move
  • Electric shock or lightning strike
  • Severe burn
  • Seizure that lasts three to five minutes

MedlinePlus has more information about the differences among health care providers and facilities.

Choosing a Health Care Facility

Report cards on the Internet can help you compare healthcare facilities. Compare doctors and health care facilities at www.healthcare.gov/compare. In addition, private organizations like U.S. News and World Report and Healthgrades.com rate hospitals based on information collected from Medicare records and other sources. As of October 2012, the Affordable Care Act requires all hospitals to report performance publically.

When determining the best health care facility for you, consider these factors:

  • Does the facility accept payment from your insurance plan?
  • Does your doctor have privileges to provide treatment to patients at the facility?
  • What is the quality of the facility?
  • Does the facility specialize in services and procedures that fit with your medical needs?
  • Is the facility in an area you can travel to and from easily? Find health care facilities in your area.

Elder Care and Health Care Facilities Seniors

As people live longer, the need for services for seniors has become more important. The Eldercare Locator (www.eldercare.gov), a public service of the Administration on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a nationwide service that connects older Americans and their caregivers with information on senior services. Visit www.aoa.gov/Elders_Families for a list of resources to connect older persons, caregivers, and professionals with important federal, national, and local programs.

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations(JCAHO) accredits hospitals as well as nursing homes and other healthcare organizations. Specially trained investigators assess whether these organizations meet set standards. At qualitycheck.org, you can check on a local facility, including how it compares with others. The Joint Commission also accepts consumer complaints. You can post a complaint online.

Naming a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care

A durable power of attorney for health care (sometimes called a durable medical power of attorney) specifies the person you've chosen to make medical decisions for you. It is activated anytime you're unconscious or unable to make medical decisions. You need to choose someone who meets the legal requirements in your state for acting as your agent. State laws vary, but most states disqualify anyone under the age of 18, your health care provider, or employees of your health care provider.

The person you name as your agent must:

  • Be willing to speak and advocate on your behalf
  • Be willing to deal with conflict among friends and family members, if it arises
  • Know you well and understand your wishes
  • Be willing to talk with you about these issues
  • Be someone you trust with your life