COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — If you’ve got a case of the sniffles or need to get a covid test done, the emergency room may not be the best place to go.

According to local medical professionals, this time of year colds, flus and even covid cases are prevalent – the CDC states flu season peaks around December and January each year – however a problem arises when folks visit the local emergency room for treatment, overcrowding the system with non-emergency cases.

“What happens when you come to the emergency department if you’re not really, really sick or critical, then you’re going to have to wait to be seen,” Piedmont Chief of Pediatrics, Dr. Rebecca Reamy, said.

When non-critical cases come to the ER, “the system breaks down,” Reamy added.

In order to keep the ER running smoothly, Reamy recommended making an appointment with a primary care physician virtually or in-person if experiencing cold, flu or non-critical covid symptoms. Another option is to head to an urgent care facility instead.

However, there are some cases where visiting the ER may be the best course of action. Piedmont recommends coming to the ER if a person is at risk of losing their life or any limb; if they are experiencing convulsions, seizures and/or loss of consciousness; if they are suffering from pregnancy-related issues and/ or if they are exhibiting signs of a heart attack or stroke.

Minor aches, pains, illnesses or small injuries are worth a visit to a primary provider. Those looking to be vaccinated for covid or the flu, should also seek care from their primary care provider or visit a pharmacy which offers vaccinations.

Graphic detailing when, and when not, to visit the emergency room. (Piedmont)

Additionally, Reamy advised those seeking covid-, flu- or RSV testing against visiting the ER. While covid tests can be carried out at home, Reamy also noted visiting the ER for non-critical illnesses can create other risk factors.

“You also run the risk of catching something while you’re at the hospital,” said Reamy. She added the longer patients are in hospital waiting rooms, “the more chance there is for [them] to pick up something while [they’re] waiting to be seen.”

Ultimately, Reamy advised only visiting the emergency room for emergency situations. Not only can visits for non-critical cases make it more difficult to provide care for critical patients, but non-emergency patients may also receive more efficient care elsewhere.

Reamy noted it is often most conducive to visit a primary care provider in non-emergency situations as that professional is most familiar with a patient’s care history and has immediate access to their medical files and don’t have to wait for them to be transferred between systems.

She said, “It’s best to go to your primary care provider because they’re the person that knows your long-term history … you don’t have to start a new relationship with a doctor you’ve never seen before.”