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Where to Go for Care?

August 8, 2023

Unexpected accidents and illnesses happen all the time, so make sure you know where to go when a health emergency strikes. Dr. Michael J. Gerardi, an Emergency Medicine physician with Atlantic Health System, joins a Community Conversation to discuss different levels of care and when you need to see a doctor, fast.

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Community Conversation: Michael J. Gerardi, MD

What options are available to access health care?

Dr. Gerardi said that most people have a primary care physician and should develop a relationship with that doctor for basic health care needs. In the event of an emergency, there are different levels of care. An urgent care center is often a person’s first choice. The next step is the Emergency Department of your local hospital. But Dr. Gerardi said that a new option is now available from Atlantic Health System that is a hybrid of an urgent care center and an emergency department called an AdvancED Urgent Care.

What makes an AdvancED Urgent Care unique?

According to Dr. Gerardi, 85% of urgent care staff are nurse practitioners and physician assistants, whereas AdvancED Urgent Care locations are always staffed by an emergency physician along with physician assistants, nurse practitioners and emergency nurses. The medical team is experienced in emergency care and is comfortable handling emergency health care situations.

What are the basic differences between an emergency department, an urgent care center and an AdvancED Urgent Care?

Dr. Gerardi reiterated that urgent care centers are staffed primarily by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. By contrast, Emergency Departments and AdvancED Urgent Care locations are staffed by emergency physicians and emergency nurses. Some Atlantic Health System Emergency Departments have dedicated pediatric units, including Chilton, Overlook and Morristown Medical Centers. Dr. Gerardi mentioned that the vast majority of patients, 98%, that access care at AdvancED Urgent Care locations are able to be treated without needing a higher level of care at an Emergency Department.

Where does Atlantic Health System have AdvancED Urgent Care locations?

Currently, there are AdvancED Urgent Care locations in Paramus and Mountain Lakes, with plans for facilities in Bayonne and Clark to open in the near future. These locations have a CAT scanner, a lab and X-Ray capabilities. They are staffed by emergency physicians and emergency nurses.

Are AdvancED Urgent Care locations appropriate for children? 

Dr. Gerardi said AdvancED Urgent Care locations see patients of all ages from infants through teenage years and all the way to adults and senior citizens.

Why is it important to have a plan for your medical care?

People don’t expect to have a medical emergency, but Dr. Gerardi said it is important to plan ahead to know where you would go if you were in crisis. Ask your primary care physician about their preferences and recommendations. If you have special health care needs, then you need to know where to go to access equipment and specialists to address your specific requirements. Dr. Gerardi said, for example, if you are a cardiac patient, are experiencing a stroke, have had a tracheostomy or have an airway issue, and have a medical emergency, you should go directly to the emergency department of a hospital.

Can an AdvancED Urgent Care handle a broken bone?

If it's an open fracture, and you can see bone coming through the skin, the Emergency Department is best equipped to handle the situation. Dr. Gerardi said all other fractures can be addressed at an AdvancED Urgent Care. They have X-Ray capabilities, will immobilize the broken bone, and arrange for an orthopedic follow up.

Is an allergic reaction a condition that can be addressed at an AdvancED Urgent Care?

If there is an airway or breathing problem caused by an allergic reaction, Dr. Gerardi recommends going to the Emergency Department of the nearest hospital. If there is not an airway issue, and the allergic reaction is flushing, nausea, or reddened skin, patients can be treated at an AdvancED Urgent Care. Dr. Gerardi also said that if a patient has an EpiPen, they can inject themselves and still come to the AdvancED Urgent Care to get examined.

Can an AdvancED Urgent Care treat a head injury?

Dr. Gerardi provided a scenario: “You fall and hit your head, you're over 65. Chances are you're going to need a CAT scan. Come on in. We can do it at these AdvancED Urgent Care locations. If you're on an anticoagulant, you really don't think you're having an intracranial bleed, but by protocol, you need to have a CAT scan, we can do that here.”

Atlantic Health System offers over 20 urgent care sites across northern New Jersey. We provide a variety of urgent and walk-in services so patients can easily access medical care when they need it most. No appointments are necessary, and most insurances are accepted.

Find an Atlantic Health System urgent care site near you >

Can an AdvancED Urgent Care treat abdominal pain?

Abdominal pain can be treated at an AdvancED Urgent Care. Doctors have access to X-Ray and CAT scans onsite to determine the cause of the pain. Dr. Gerardi provided another scenario to illustrate the process. “Let's say you have diverticulitis. That's an inflammation of the bowel where it gets a mild infection. We could start IV antibiotics at this care center and send you out on oral antibiotics just like they would do in the emergency department. Now if we find an abscess or collection of pus, then you'll need to be referred. But that's that one or 2%.”

If there is a need to refer a patient to more advanced care, will their medical records follow them?

No matter where you access care at Atlantic Health System, your electronic medical records - including diagnoses, medications, and procedures - follow you to create a continuum of care with accuracy and safety.

What are the hours of the AdvancED Urgent Care locations?

Atlantic Health System advanced care medical practices are open on weekdays from 8am to 8pm and weekends from 8am to 5pm, and open on holidays.

Is there a reason why a person would choose to go to urgent care instead of their primary care physician?

Dr. Gerardi said that if you need an X-Ray, almost all urgent care centers have that capability. Your choice might also depend on the availability of your physician and whether or not you can get an appointment.

How has access to health care evolved over the past few years?

Dr. Gerardi was enthusiastic about how patients access health care and the options that are available. He said that with so many choices, including AdvancED Urgent Care locations, many patients are able to avoid a visit to the hospital and find health care in alternate locations. He acknowledged that COVID-19 put a strain on the health care system, and some patients delayed getting the care they needed. Today, he sees the system bouncing back and observed that people are re-engaging with their health care providers.  

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