Urgent Care Vs. ER: What to Do When You Need Immediate Care
You know you need to see a doctor … but does it warrant a trip to the ER? Many medical situations require immediate care, but not all of them necessitate a hospital visit.
If you have a life-threatening medical emergency, don’t hesitate to call 911. Otherwise, you might want to weigh your options to see whether it’s better to get treatment through an urgent care clinic.
What’s the difference between ERs and urgent care clinics?
Emergency rooms (ERs) and urgent care clinics are similar, but your experience with them can be quite different.
An ER is typically a section of a hospital and has access to a full range of medical equipment and supplies, including imaging and testing. Paramedics bring emergency patients to ERs, where they can get the acute care they need quickly. Walk in service is also available if you require medical treatment.
ER patients can be more easily transferred to surgery or the ICU if needed, since they are all part of the same campus.
Urgent care clinics are similar to ERs in that they take walk-in patients and treat a variety of conditions requiring immediate care. The difference is that they don’t have all the same resources that a full hospital has. However, many urgent care clinics still offer a wide range of services including imaging, wound care and blood tests.
Pros and cons of urgent care vs. ER visits
The obvious benefit of going to the ER is that if the patient has a serious medical emergency, they are going to have access to a wider range of treatment options through the hospital. ERs are also open 24 hours a day, while most urgent care clinics are not.
In less serious situations, however, ER visits can be unnecessary. While ER staff won’t turn away someone who needs care, patients with less serious conditions can end up waiting hours for treatment if there are others present who need more immediate help. What’s more, a trip to the ER can be significantly more expensive.
Urgent care clinics take patients who need immediate care and provide many of the same services you would expect from the ER. Many are able to take X-rays, treat minor lacerations, take blood tests and administer medications.
While it depends on the capacity of the clinic and how busy it is on a given day, you may find that you get treatment more quickly through urgent care than through an ER.
How to know when to choose ER or urgent care
For life-threatening medical emergencies, you’ll need ER treatment. These include:
- Chest pain or pain in left arm or jaw/difficulty breathing
- Serious wounds that won’t stop bleeding
- Broken bones
- Severe allergic reactions that cause difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Stroke symptoms like numbness or slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness/change in mental state
- Multiple injuries
- Severe pain or bleeding during pregnancy
- Head, face or eye injury
Otherwise, you can usually get excellent care through an urgent care clinic, with issues like:
- High fever
- Moderate cold/flu symptoms, vomiting, nausea and diarrhea
- Minor cuts
- Minor asthma/wheezing
- Pain with urination
- Abdominal pain
When in doubt, call 911 in a serious medical emergency, or call your primary care physician in non-emergencies for guidance.
Maryland Primary Care provides both primary care and urgent care services to cover a wide range of medical needs for you and your family. To make an appointment, call 301-277-3555.