Should I Go to the ER?

Learn about the range of care options at OHSU

A mother with a concerned expression on her face, standing in her kitchen holding her baby.

When you or your loved one is injured or doesn’t feel well, you may wonder whether to go to the emergency room or get care elsewhere.

Hospitals across the U.S., including in Oregon, have less emergency room space these days because of:

  • A surge in RSV, a common virus that is sending more children than usual to emergency rooms. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Nov. 15 declared RSV a public health emergency.
  • An increase in flu cases.
  • Continuing spread of COVID-19.

Oregon’s four largest health systems, including OHSU, said in a Nov. 17 statement, “Except when emergency care is needed, we urge families and caregivers with concerns to first call their primary care provider.”

As of Nov. 23, Oregon’s three hospitals that provide pediatric intensive care, including OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital, were using crisis standards of care. This means:

  • More patients are showing up than each hospital can handle.
  • Hospitals cannot transfer patients because care is not available elsewhere.
  • Hospitals can be more flexible in caring for patients, including:
    • Prioritizing fairly which patients get which level of care when there are not enough of the same resources for everyone.
    • Using fewer staff to care for more patients.

As of Nov. 30, RSV hospitalizations remain high, and families are urged to call primary care provider for non-emergencies.

To help make sure emergency rooms are available to people who need them most, here’s a guide to when and where to get care for common injuries, illnesses and symptoms.

Learn more: Know the difference between symptoms of allergies, colds, COVID-19 and flu.

I need care now and don’t feel safe waiting

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you or your loved one has:

  • Signs of a possible heart attack: pain in the chest, stomach, back, neck, jaw and/or arms
  • Trouble breathing
  • Signs of a possible stroke: sudden loss of balance, blurry vision, droopy or numb face, weak arm, slurred speech
  • Bleeding that won’t stop
  • Fever in an adult that:
    • Is 103 degrees or higher
    • Lasts more than three days
  • Severe burns
  • Head injury, especially with loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Any other immediate threat to life or health

Babies and children need emergency care if:

  • The inside of the mouth is blue
  • Their breathing is extremely labored (see "How hard is your baby breathing? What to look for")
  • They haven't urinated in eight hours or aren't taking in or holding down fluids 
  • They are severely lethargic and you are struggling to wake them

I’m worried about poisoning

Call Poison Control at 800-222-1222.

I need care today and can wait a few hours

Get same-day immediate care (also called urgent care) if you or your loved one has:

  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Cold or flu symptoms
  • Minor injuries
  • Minor aches and pains
  • Any other health issue that needs quick attention

Learn about:

I need advice after-hours

Nurse advice lines: Talk with a registered nurse who can decide what kind of care you need.

  • Through insurance: Many private insurance and Medicare Advantage plans offer nurse advice lines.
  • Oregon Health Plan: If you are a Fee For Service member, you can call the 24-hour nurse advice line at 800-562-4620.
  • OHSU patients: If you are a patient at an OHSU primary care clinic, call your clinic’s advice line.
  • Multnomah County: Call the Health Department’s advice line at 503-988-5558, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday, and any time from 5:30 p.m. Friday through 7:30 a.m. Monday.

I need care and can wait a day or more

Make a primary care appointment for:

  • Regular tests and screenings
  • Vaccinations
  • Wellness visits
  • New symptoms
  • Chronic illness or condition
  • Mental health concerns
  • Family planning
  • Medication needs

I need advice on my child’s symptoms

A graphic of a rag doll under which reads "OHSU" and "MD 4KIDS," comprising the logo of the OHSU Doernbecher MD 4KIDS health information library app.

Download our app to check symptoms and decide on care.