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Urgent Care or Emergency Room: How to Know Which One to Choose
Wednesday, 10 February 2021

If you have been injured, you may not know whether to go to the emergency room or urgent care. Check out these tips on how to choose which one to go to.

Knowing where to go for a sudden healthcare need can be stressful. Maybe your baby has spiked a high fever or you sprained your ankle and it’s 1 in the morning. These symptoms can be scary and they can’t wait until you can get a doctors appointment.

If you find yourself needing care after doctor’s hours, you may not be sure if you should call 911, go to urgent care or go to the emergency room. Some injuries or illnesses are true emergencies and that’s where 911 and the emergency room are your lifelines. In other cases, urgent care or an emergency clinic may be just what you need.

Read on to learn more about the differences between urgent care and the emergency room so you’ll be prepared for your next medical need.

Urgent Care or Emergency Room: Knowing the differences

Many times people use the emergency room as after-hours care for minor illnesses or injuries. People may not know that urgent care is a great option here. This service is perfect for something that may need to be treated quickly but isn’t a true emergency.

When your doctor's office is closed, and you have an urgent medical need, it’s important to know the difference between urgent care and the emergency room.

One easy way to think of it is if your illness or injury is something that you would normally call your doctor about if they were open, it’s probably a great time to utilize an urgent care facility.

Urgent care can fill a void for care between a true emergency which would warrant a call to 911 or a trip to the emergency room and a medical issue that needs attention quickly.

Should I Go to the ER?

The emergency room is able to provide medical care all day and night. They are also equipped and staffed for complex and critical needs. A life-threating medical emergency ranging from a heart attack or a stroke would be handled by an emergency room.

This is a higher and more complex range of care than is provided in an urgent care. The care that requires rapid or advanced treatments are ones you should always go to an emergency room for. Surgery, for example, should always be performed in a hospital setting.

Symptoms that would warrant a trip to the emergency room could include chest pain, difficulty breathing, numbness on one side, slurred speech, fainting, serious burns, head injuries, injuries to your eyes, concussions, or broken bones. Fevers accompanied by a rash, cuts that require stitches, facial lacerations, and vaginal bleeding during pregnancy would all be injuries that would require an emergency room visit.

In the end, you should always trust your gut or intuition here. If you feel that it is serious, it will never hurt to be over-prepared and have more care than you need. If you feel like you should go to an emergency room, go.

When to go to Urgent Care

Urgent care is different than emergency care. A recent study done by the National Center for Health Statistics showed that 48% of emergency room patients were there simply because their doctor's office wasn’t open.

Urgent care provides a place to go when you need urgent medical care but it isn’t serious enough to go to the emergency room and your doctor's office is closed.

Visiting urgent care for chest pain, for example, can be a great way to find out why you’re experiencing the pain without going to an emergency room if you don't need to. Urgent care facilities are same-day clinics that can provide relief for problems that need to be solved quickly.

Urgent care clinics are very well-equipped to handle a variety of symptoms and medical problems. Something that you may visit an urgent care for is when you have a fever without a rash, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, dehydration, or flu-like symptoms. You may also go for physical injuries such as strains, sprains, or smaller cuts that may need stitches.

For a repeat medical problem such as a child with an ear infection, it’s always best to try a call to your primary care physician first. Your primary doctor already knows you well and knows your medical history. In the event that you need medical care quickly and your doctor’s office is closed, an urgent care facility is a great resource.

When to call 911

In a severe emergency, you may need to dial 911. If you or a loved one need quick emergency care, always call 911 if you don’t think you can drive them or yourself. When in doubt, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

There are some situations where you may do more harm than good by driving yourself or waiting for someone to take you to an emergency room. You’ll be keeping other people on the road safer as well.

In an ambulance, paramedics may also be able to start administering treatment right away. You’ll begin to get help on the way to the hospital which could be life-saving.

Urgent Care vs Emergency Room

Knowing if urgent care or emergency room treatment is best can be tricky. On one hand, you know you need medical assistance quickly, but on the other you know it’s not a life treating emergency. This is where urgent care is a great resource.

If you do know you need emergency medical assistance which may require further treatment such as a surgery, the emergency room is the way to go. Never feel nervous to be over-prepared. If you need urgent medical care, be cautious, call 911 or visit an emergency room.

If you just have an urgent medical need and you can’t wait until your doctor’s office opens or it’s something you know an urgent care can take care of, take advantage of them as a resource. No matter your situation, go in and get the care you or your family member needs. It’s always better to be safe than sorry later.
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