More than 521,000 Kentuckians have signed up for health insurance since last fall when enrollment began under the Affordable Care Act through Kynect.
With so many people having new access to health care, state officials are trying to get the word out that, depending on what ails you, there are a variety of care options available.
Before the introduction of the ACA, the emergency room was the default option for many people without insurance, said Dr. John Langefeld, the chief medical officer for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. That can be both an expensive and time consuming option, he said.
And, as you've probably seen at your neighborhood Kroger or Walgreens, medical clinics are popping up everywhere.
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So how do you know where to go to get care?
Hospitals, along with the state, are trying to educate people on making good health care choices.
At UK Healthcare, for example, a team of financial counselors help enroll patients for new coverage and work to educate patients on establishing care with a primary care physician.
It's important, Langefeld said, for people to have a primary care doctor who can provide consistent care, especially if a person has chronic health issues such as diabetes or asthma. (Primary care doctor is today's term for what once was called the family doctor.)
But, he said, there are options when it's not possible to get into see a primary care physician.
The state has put together a brochure showing when it is appropriate to use certain kinds of health services.
■ Emergency rooms
■ Urgent care centers, which are usually stand-alone, walk-in clinics.
■ Retail clinics, which are walk-in clinics within a store.
Retail clinics in Kentucky can be found in Walgreens, Rite Aid, Kroger and Target.
Both urgent care centers and retail clinics are staffed by medical professionals. Some are staffed by doctors, others are staffed by physicians' assistants or advanced practice registered nurses.
So here are some options and some suggestions on when each option might be appropriate:
Urgent care centers
These centers can treat medical problems that are urgent but not severe enough to go to an emergency room. They should not replace a primary care physician but they are open on weekends and into the evening when most doctors' offices are closed.
Here are some cases where urgent care centers would be appropriate:
■ Minor accident from falls
■ Most are also equipped with X-ray
■ Mild to moderate asthma
■ Mild allergic reactions.
Like urgent care centers, retail clinics see people without an appointment, usually on a first-come, first-serve basis. Check your insurance plan for cost. Here are some ailments that can be treated at a retail clinic.
■ Sore throats
■ Urinary tract infections
■ Ear infections
■ School and sports physicals
Both urgent care centers and retail clinics also offer vaccinations.
Emergency rooms are equipped to provide life-saving care for emergencies 24 hours a day.
Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you have an accident or a condition that requires emergency care. Examples of problems that require emergency care are:
■ Difficulty breathing
■ Chest pain
■ Head trauma
■ Vomiting blood
■ Severe allergic reaction
■ Loss of consciousness
Langefeld said it is important to follow up with your primary care physician, or family doctor, after treatment at an urgent care center, retail clinic or emergency room.