Emergency room or urgent care?

Dr. Shawn Evans, Scripps Health

Don’t be fooled: “Emergency” and “urgent” may have similar meanings, but knowing the difference between the services offered at an emergency room versus an urgent care center can save a life.

What is an urgent care center, and when should you use one?
Urgent care centers are same-day clinics that can handle many medical problems that should be treated right away, but aren’t considered true emergencies.

In other words, urgent care centers are useful when you are feeling unwell or become injured, but your primary care doctor is not available, and you can’t wait for an appointment.

This is a common need: A study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics found that among patients who had visited the emergency room but were not admitted to the hospital, 48 percent went there because their doctor’s office was not open.

When requesting an urgent care center appointment, ask what the center is equipped to treat. Some common symptoms that may warrant a visit to an urgent care center include:

  • Fever without rash
  • Ear pain
  • Painful urination
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Minor trauma such as a sprain or shallow cut

Emergency room wait times can be long, and visits can be costly. If your symptoms are mild, an urgent care center may be a good option for you.

Looking for an urgent care center near you? Use this handy tool to search.

When to go to the ER
Some medical conditions require rapid or advanced treatments that are only available or appropriate in a hospital setting.

Chest pains, sudden onset of painful symptoms, fevers in infants, deep cuts, and severely broken bones are just a few examples of situations in which emergency care is needed.

When in doubt, getting to the emergency room as quickly as possible is the best course of action.

What about 9-1-1?
If you are experiencing signs of stroke or heart attack, or you’ve sustained a potentially life-threatening injury, call 9-1-1. Paramedics can start many life-saving treatments immediately upon arrival, and that can make all the difference when minutes and seconds count.

If you feel faint, your vision is impaired, or you otherwise don’t feel able to transport yourself to the emergency room, call 9-1-1.

Use this guide to help make choices between urgent care, the emergency room, and calling 9-1-1.














































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