Where Should You Go: Urgent Care or the Emergency Room?
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
It seems like the times when you most need medical attention happen suddenly—and inconveniently. Baby’s fevers always seem to spike in the middle of the night; sports injuries always seem to happen during the weekend; and those mysterious but undeniable pains only surface after your doctor’s regular office hours.
But it can be difficult to know where to go when you can’t see your regular family physician.
The essential difference between Urgent Care and Emergency Care is that urgent care fills in the gap for any time that you can’t see your regular physician and emergency care is for times when the problem needs immediate attention. So, if you have a pain, injury, or health concern that you would feel comfortable addressing with your regular doctor (like a sore throat, a skin rash, or a non-debilitating muscle pain), you should most likely see a health professional at an urgent care facility.
If, on the other hand, your medical condition is critical or life threatening (such as a heart attack, stroke, or traumatic injury), you should go straight to the emergency room or call 911.
Use this as a general guide for what to do when you have a medical condition that needs attention outside of your regular doctor’s office hours:
Go to the ER
A number of medical conditions are considered emergencies because they require immedieat or advanced treatments (such as surgery) that are only available in a hospital setting.
Symptoms that are best evaluated in an emergency room include:
- Persistent chest pain, especially if it radiates to your arm or jaw or is accompanied by sweating, vomiting or shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Any severe pain, particularly in the abdomen or starting halfway down the back
- Sudden clumsiness, loss of balance or fainting
- Sudden difficulty speaking, or trouble understanding speech
- Altered mental status or confusion, including suicidal thoughts
- Sudden weakness or paralysis, especially on one side of the face or body
- Severe heart palpitations
- Sudden, severe headache
- Sudden testicular pain and swelling
- Newborn baby with a fever (a baby less than three months old with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher needs to be seen right away)
- Falls that cause injury or occur while taking blood thinning medications
- Sudden vision changes, including blurred or double vision and full or partial vision loss
- Broken bones or dislocated joints
- Deep cuts that require stitches or a large open wound that won’t stop bleeding
- Head or eye injuries
- Severe flu or cold symptoms
- High fevers or fevers with rash
- Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
- Severe and persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Serious burns
- Seizures without a previous diagnosis of epilepsy
Even when it’s clear that you or someone you love needs to go to the emergency room, when should you get yourself (or loved one) there and when should you call 911?
Never drive yourself to the hospital if you are in severe pain, are bleeding profusely, feel unable to operate a vehicle, or your vision is impaired.
When in doubt, call 911.
Visit an Urgent Care Provider
Urgent care health centers are the best option when you have a medical problem that needs treatment right away, but is not a true medical emergency like those described under “Go to the ER.”
Symptoms that can be evaluated and treated at an urgent care clinic include:
- Fever without rash
- Ear pain
- Painful urination
- Persistent diarrhea
- Sore throat
- Minor trauma such as a common sprain or shallow cut
Urgent care is a great resource when you need care quickly or during times when your doctor is unavailable.
If you have any questions about visiting one of our health professionals, just give us a call or stop in anytime. You never need an appointment and we are always happy to help you get the treatment you need.