When to Call Your Doctor  
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Your Choice, Your Decision

One of the purposes of these guidelines is to help you determine how sick you are. Then it is time for you to make a decision and act. By reading the questions and by using your common sense, you should be able to select one of the five followingWhen to Call Your Doctor categories:

Call 911 Now (you may need an ambulance)

  • Definition: you may have a life-threatening emergency
  • Action: Immediately call 911 or your Emergency Medical Response system.

Call Your Doctor Now (night or day)

  • Definition: you may have an emergency or urgent condition
  • Action: Call your doctor immediately. If you can't reach your doctor within 60 minutes, go to the nearest emergency room by car. If you don't have a doctor, go to the ER now.

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm)

  • Definition: You probably have an illness that may require a specific test (such as a throat culture) or an antibiotic (such as for a ear infection). You may need to be seen, but it can safely wait for up to 24 hours.
  • Action: If the office is open, call now. If the office is closed now, but will be open within 24 hours, call when it opens. If the office won't be open within the next 24 hours, call your doctor's answering service between 9 AM and 4 PM on any day of the week (including weekends and holidays) for assistance. If you don't have a doctor, go to an urgent care center or ER within the next 24 hours.

Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours

  • Definition: You have a non-urgent symptom or illness that has lasted longer than expected (such as a persistent cough or localized rash) but usually carries no risk of complications. You may need to be seen in the office but can safely wait a few days if it's the weekend or a holiday.
  • Action: If the office is open, call now. Otherwise, call during scheduled weekday office hours on Monday - Friday. (This category therefore excludes weekends and holidays.) If you don't have a doctor, choose a doctor and make an appointment to be seen within the next 3 days.

Self Care at Home:

  • Definition: You have a mild illness that's usually self-limited or harmless. Follow the detailed home care advice that's provided in each guideline.
  • Action: You can safely care treat the condition at home. Call your doctor if your condition becomes worse.


If you think that you are having a medical emergency, call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!

And when in doubt, call your doctor NOW or go to the closest emergency department.

Author and Senior Reviewer: David A. Thompson, M.D.

Content Set: Adult HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Adult HouseCalls Symptom Checker