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Urgent Care or Emergency Department?

Where to Go When You Need Immediate Care

If you feel sick, in pain or simply uncomfortable, you probably want to take care of the health issue at the root of it right away. Between retail clinics, urgent care centers and emergency departments, you have a lot to consider for where and how to get immediate treatment.

When to Go to Urgent Care

If you need medical attention for a common symptom or condition and your primary care physician is unavailable, urgent care may be the best choice for you. No appointment is needed and doctors or advanced practitioners are available after traditional office hours.

As a result, the best time to visit an urgent care center is when there is a minor trauma, such as a sprain, where the condition isn’t life threatening but requires immediate treatment. Urgent care centers can also handle broken bones of the wrist, hand, ankle or foot.

Urgent care centers are the ideal choice if you’re experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Minor trauma, such as a common sprain
  • Painful urination or urinary tract infection
  • Severe sore throat
  • Fever without a rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Mild asthma
  • Broken bones of the wrist, hand, ankle, or foot
  • If you can’t get an appointment with your PCP, but you already know the diagnosis
  • Condition requires immediate care, but is not life-threatening
  • The onset of symptoms is gradual

When to Go to the Emergency Department

While the reality is most health problems are not emergencies, sometimes you need to head to the emergency department (ED). Emergency Doctors are trained to differentiate minor ailments from major ailments and they are trained and equipped to treat all of them.

A medical emergency is often defined as an issue that requires immediate care, a serious illness or injury, or serious symptoms. In other words, you are not going to the ED because it is convenient; you are going because it is necessary.

According to the American College of Physicians, these 12 symptoms should always be treated as emergencies and signal you to get to an ED:

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure lasting 2 minutes or more
  • Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness
  • Changes in vision
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Confusion or changes in mental status, unusual behavior, difficulty walking
  • Any sudden or severe pain
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Severe or lasting vomiting or diarrhea
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Unusual abdominal pain

Additional symptoms or conditions requiring emergency care include:

  • Poisoning
  • Drug overdose
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Major burn
  • Spinal, head, or brain injury
  • Severe allergic reaction

If you are not sure what to do, remember it is better to go to the ED and find out it is nothing than to not go and have a major complication later.