Urgent Care Vs. Emergency Room: Your Guide for Which to Use

Are you trying to figure out whether you should use the urgent care vs. the emergency room? Read this article to learn what you need to know.

When injury or illness occurs and your doctor’s office is closed for the day, where do you turn for medical care?

Thankfully there are other options with hours that extend beyond the typical workday. These include urgent care facilities and the nearby emergency room.

In moments where tensions are high and health concern is the biggest concern, many people aren’t sure whether they should head to urgent care or go straight to the ER.

Knowing the differences between urgent care vs. emergency room care can help you make the right call when you might not have time to spare.

You don’t want to waste any time in a critical medical situation. You also don’t want to trouble emergency room staff with something that could be easily taken care of at the urgent care.

Here’s how to choose between the two:

Confusion Is Common

You must understand the differences between urgent care vs. emergency room situations so that your medical needs will be handled correctly.

Many injuries or illnesses seem to happen out of nowhere such as sharp shooting pain in your abdomen, a high fever, or an ankle injury that occurs when you’re performing normal daily tasks.

It’s not uncommon to feel uncertain as to how to proceed in these situations, especially if your regular doctor’s office is closed for the weekend.

There’s no easy answer as to which to choose, urgent care vs. ER, and each medical case is unique. However, some general guidelines can help you determine where you should go to seek medical care.

What Are the Differences: Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room

Many people see the terms “urgent” and “emergency” as being the same, which can add to their confusion as to which to choose.

An urgent care facility is intended to fill in the gaps when patients become injured or ill, but their regular doctor is unavailable, and waiting for an appointment is not an option.

If it’s the type of illness or injury that you would typically take to your primary care doctor, this is where the urgent care center is the right choice.

The emergency room, on the other hand, is there to provide medical attention day or night, on weekends, weekdays, and holidays.

They are medically equipped and properly staffed to take on even the most critical or complex medical needs.

Life-threatening situations such as a heart attack, stroke, serious injury with significant blood loss, and other traumatic injuries should be taken to the ER.

Symptoms That Should Be Handled by Urgent Care

When you’re still feeling uncertain about urgent care vs. emergency room care, consider the following symptoms as those that can likely be handled by your local urgent care:

  • You’re experiencing a fever but no rash.
  • You have persistent diarrhea and/or vomiting.
  • You’re dehydrated or suspect that you might be.
  • You’re experiencing flu-like symptoms.
  • For any sprains or strains.
  • For abdominal pain.
  • For small cuts that might need stitches.
  • Cough or congestion.
  • A sore throat.
  • Ear pain.
  • Pain when urinating.

If your symptoms are coming on gradually, or if you’re experiencing symptoms that you recognize from previous experiences, your primary care doctor is option number one.

Your doctor is familiar with your medical history and can give recommendations that will be best for you as their patient.

If your doctor’s office is closed, these are the kinds of symptoms that can be taken to urgent care.

Symptoms That Require Emergency Care

To help you determine if a medical issue requires emergency medical care at the ER, here are some symptoms that should be evaluated by emergency room doctors and nurses:

  • Difficulty breathing and/or chest pain.
  • Slurred speech.
  • A drastic change in mental state or fainting.
  • Numbness on one side of the body or face.
  • Weakness on one side of the body or face.
  • Serious burns whether chemical or due to fire.
  • An eye injury.
  • Head injuries.
  • Concussion, especially if paired with confusion.
  • Dislocated joints or broken bones.
  • A fever with a rash.
  • Seizures.
  • Lacerations to the face.
  • Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy.
  • Severe flu or cold symptoms.
  • Serious cuts that require stitches.

Ultimately you have to trust your instincts to determine if a medical concern warrants emergency room care or if it can be properly addressed at your nearby urgent care center.

Be Prepared for Either Option

Whether you’re heading to urgent care or the emergency room, take a moment to make a note of all the medications you’re currently taking.

This includes all supplements, vitamins, and over-the-counter medications. You’ll want to mention these to the doctor or nurse that you see upon arrival.

Be sure to let them know how much of each medication you’re taking and how often you’re taking it.

Let the medical professional know about any allergies you have and if you’ve undergone any surgical procedures in the past.

This information is helpful at all check-ups, but it’s especially important in a medical emergency so that the physician can know what to avoid or how to treat you best.

Find Other Useful Health-Related Content

Knowing more about when to choose urgent care vs. emergency room care is important when you’re feeling unwell or you or someone you love is injured. Hopefully, this article has dispelled any confusion as to when to choose which.

And since your overall health is about so much more than which doctor to see and where we encourage you to take some time to check out some of our other helpful medical tips.

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