Sometimes illness or injury occurs suddenly. You may get terrible abdominal pain out of the blue or twist your ankle awkwardly while carrying out regular activities. Your child may suddenly come down with a high fever.
When these things happen, it can be difficult to know where to go for treatment. This is especially the case when the symptoms are particularly concerning or your regular physician’s office is closed.
Some people get scared and think about going to the emergency room. Others downplay their symptoms and think urgent care is sufficient. Knowing the difference between urgent care centers and emergency rooms can help you save your life or that of your loved one.
“Emergency” and “urgent” may sound like the same thing. They both indicate there’s a medical problem which needs to be seen to quickly. However, there are differences between emergency rooms and urgent care centers and they offer different levels of care.
When You Should Go to Urgent Care
Urgent care clinics are becoming increasingly prevalent. They are there to assist you if you become ill or suffer an injury, but your usual doctor is unavailable and you can’t wait for an appointment. It may be late at night, over a long weekend or during a holiday. Urgent care centers handle medical problems that need to be treated right away but aren’t true emergencies. If your symptoms come on gradually or you already have a diagnosis, this is the best place to go. You should visit one of these centers for:
- Back pain
- Minor fractures
- Minor headaches
- Nausea, vomiting, and headache
- Fevers (except those in very young children)
- Sprains and strains
- Minor allergic reactions
- Minor burns
- Foreign objects in eyes and nose
Yes, you could go to an emergency room with these complaints but if there’s an urgent care center is nearby, it is best to go there. You will likely be seen by a health care provider within 30 minutes and be out of the facility within an hour. If you go to an ER, you may have to wait while true emergencies are treated. It is also worth noting that urgent care visits are much cheaper, and they are usually covered by major insurance providers.
When You Should Go to the ER
Emergency rooms at hospitals have the equipment and staff to handle complex situations which threaten life or limb. They provide medical care at any time of day or night and are meant for things like heart attacks, strokes, and traumatic injuries following car accidents or serious violent incidents. You may need specialists or a team of doctors to treat you in such instances. You should go to the ER if you experience:
- Chest pain
- Severe bleeding
- Difficulty breathing
- Head trauma
- Loss of vision
- Slurred speech
- Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
- Numbness on one size
If you decide to go to the emergency room, you need to decide whether you can drive yourself or you need to call an ambulance. A general rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t drive yourself if you’re bleeding profusely or experiencing severe chest pain. You also shouldn’t drive if you can’t see well or you think you might faint.
If you suspect you’re experiencing a stroke or heart attack, it is best to call 911 since paramedics will begin treating you before you get to the hospital. You may lose precious time if you drive yourself.
Preparing for Urgent Care or the Emergency Room
Regardless of which type of care your medical condition warrants, you should try to be prepared for when you’re seen by a healthcare profession. Travel with a list of all the medications you take or just grab them on the way out. This includes over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and other supplements. You should also list any allergies you have and any medical procedures you’ve had and when they were performed. Make sure you have the name and contact information of your regular physician as well. This information can prove to be very helpful for the physician who is seeing you for the very first time.
Choosing the right facility to attend can make a lot of difference. If your condition isn’t a true emergency, you will save both time and money by going to urgent care. If you have a life or death illness or injury, calling 911 and going straight to the emergency room can save your life. Use the information outlined here to help you make the best decision in the future.