Emergency vs. Urgent Care
The first few moments after an injury or medical crisis are often the most critical, and the most confusing. When you or your loved one is in need of medical attention, it can be hard to determine where you should go to receive care. Being informed about the type of care you will receive at different healthcare locations can help make that decision easier. And we can all help make true emergency care as effective and efficient as possible by knowing how to tell the difference between emergency, urgent, and routine health situations.
Emergency Rooms (ERs) are the best place to go for treatment of serious medical conditions such as stroke, heart attack, head or body trauma, and severe bleeding. Symptoms of a serious condition can include:
- Major head or body trauma
- Loss of consciousness
- Sudden loss of vision
- Poison or possible overdose
- Severe allergic reactions
- Severe bleeding
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
CALL 911 immediately in an emergency situation so that the responding Emergency Room will be ready when you arrive.
Many people rush to the ER in the belief that it will be faster, but remember, the most serious patients are always seen first. You often have to wait hours to see a physician in the ER. Patients rarely experience this type of wait at an Urgent Care facility, because they automatically direct emergency cases to an ER for care. For conditions that aren't life-threatening, you may be able to save time--and money--by going to an Urgent Care clinic. Most Urgent Care facilities are also open for extended hours. Going to an Urgent Care facility is probably a better option if you have symptoms such as:
- Mild asthma
- Broken bones or sprains
- Coughs, colds, or sore throats
- Ear infections
- Fever or flu-like symptoms
- Non-life threatening allergic reactions
- Or if you need after-hours care.
When in doubt, call ahead to the clinic so that medical personnel can direct you to an Urgent Care or ER.
Regardless of whether you receive care at an Urgent Care clinic or Emergency Room, you should always follow up with your primary care physician.
For non-life-threatening conditions, patients should normally try to contact their primary care physician (PCP) first. Your PCP possesses the most knowledge regarding your medical history, and that puts them in a better position to direct you to the most appropriate type of care--especially for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes. Keep in mind that most insurance carriers build their policies around the notion of the PCP as the "gatekeeper" to patient care, so seeing them first may help you avoid high medical fees or fees that are not fully covered by your plan.