A woman doctor appears to be on the phone and is smiling at her desk.
Your primary care provider will have someone available to answer your questions, no matter what time of day or night. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Nights. Weekends. Holidays. These are the worst times for medical problems.

If only you could call your doctor’s office for advice and help.

You can. In fact, it’s often the most effective and least expensive care you can get with quick, knowledgeable answers and the lowest out-of-pocket costs.

“We are your family’s health care providers and we want you to call us first,” said Theresa Osborne, MD, medical director for the Spectrum Health Medical Group. “We are here to help. It’s why we are doctors.”

Many offices, including all Spectrum Health primary care offices, have someone to take your call 24 hours a day. And yes, that means nights, weekends and holidays.

The person who answers will take a few notes and have the doctor who is “on call” get in touch with you.

Spectrum Health also offers the Spectrum Health app, which connects patients to physicians or advance care providers through video calls or e-visits with private messages.

It’s open to anyone in Michigan, including those who are not currently Spectrum Health patients. 

The Spectrum Health app is an excellent option to evaluate conditions such as cold, flu, diarrhea, earache, fever, nausea, pink eye, sore throat and such. It’s suitable for any non-emergency condition.

“It’s convenient and it works with the patient’s schedule,” Dr. Osborne said.

Patients should call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room if they’re experiencing dizziness, numbness, paralysis, difficulty speaking or loss of consciousness, chest pain, shortness of breath, sweating, severe abdominal pain, seizures or any other condition that would require urgent medical care.

When to call first

You can also call your primary care office for help with non-emergency conditions, such as:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma and breathing problems
  • Bladder and urinary tract infections
  • Bumps, cuts and scrapes
  • Colds, coughs and sore throats
  • Ear aches
  • Lower back pain
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Runny nose and post-nasal drip
  • Sinus pain
  • Skin problems
  • Sprains and strains
  • Upset stomach

When to up the ante

There are times when you need help right away. Follow these basic guidelines:

  • Urgent care: If you need quick help but it’s not an emergency, find an urgent care center. It’s the right choice for most burns or minor wounds. Your doctor may also recommend urgent care for sprains or flu symptoms. (Call first for advice.) You can check the locations and hours of Spectrum Health urgent care centers online.
  • Emergency department: Head to the emergency department for problems that could cause death, disfigurement or permanent injury if not treated right away. Examples include convulsions, severe burns, severe bleeding, amputations and unconsciousness.
  • 911: Always call 911 in life-threatening situations. Chest pain, shortness of breath, sudden slurred speech or unconsciousness can be signs of a heart attack, stroke or other medical emergencies that require a fast response.

Benefits of having an ‘in’ with the doc

Dr. Osborne proves that calling your doctor first has deep roots in society, and can be quite beneficial, in this first-person account:

“In 1959, my Mom worked for our family doctor as the first RN he ever had in his 40-year career. Sometimes this was good to have an ‘in’ with the doctor, because we always got special treatment when we visited Dr. Casto—like more bells and whistles and treats from the toy chest.

Sometimes this was not so good, because my Mom called our doctor first for everything. We always got expedited office visits for anything we needed, no matter how insignificant it seems now. Lots of times, believe me, I would have rather stayed home.

In those days, going to the hospital was a last resort and we always called our family doctor first if we had a question or needed some help.

After all these years, I think back on what it meant to have someone you knew—and who knew you—take care of your health needs and was there for advice and direction when you needed it most.

Someone who could be counted on.

I don’t think we can fully revisit the good old days, but the primary care providers at Spectrum Health believe in the importance of a continuous, healing relationship and provide care whether the office is open or not, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We try to help people avoid unnecessary and (sometimes) expensive care. We try to prevent problems from getting worse. And when specialty or emergency care is really needed, we provide the advice and coordination required to get you better faster.”