Urgent Care or Emergency Room? How to know where to go

Urgent care clinic or emergency room: Know where to go

Have you ever noticed that your kids tend to hurt themselves whenever the pediatrician’s office is closed? Or is that just my kids?

Run teeth first into the bathtub? Must be close to bedtime. Dislocated arm as a result of a sibling shopping cart spat? Must be the weekend. Fever approaching 103? Your spouse probably just started the night shift at work.

For kids and adults alike, it can often be hard to know – especially in the panic of an unexpected medical event – whether you should go to your primary care provider, urgent care clinic or the emergency room.

Here are some guidelines that may help.

Primary Care

Even those in good health should have an established primary care provider for annual check-ups. Your primary care provider understands your medical history.  When you’re not dealing with an immediate emergency, call him/her first to guide your next steps if you are faced with a medical situation and are unsure of exactly where to turn.

Urgent Care

Urgent care centers are appropriate when you:

  • Can’t get in to see your primary care physician
  • Need medical treatment after your physician office has closed
  • Need prompt medical attention but the services are not emergent

The following list is not comprehensive but does offer some general guidelines for the types of conditions appropriate for urgent care:

  • Minor burns or injuries
  • Minor cuts
  • Sore throat
  • Sprains or strains
  • Cold or flu symptoms
  • Ear infections
  • Mild asthma
  • Animal bites
  • Minor broken bones
  • Urinary tract infection

Unlike an Emergency room, urgent care centers are not equipped to address life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks, strokes or trauma. If you’re not sure if you or a loved one is experiencing a potentially life-threatening medical illness, treat it as an emergency and go to the nearest Emergency room or call 911. If you have a recurring issue sending you to urgent care during off hours, you should schedule an appointment to follow-up with your primary care provider.

Emergency Room

You should call 911 or go to the nearest hospital Emergency room with any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Poisoning or overdose
  • Heavy or uncontrolled bleeding
  • Sudden change in mental ability
  • Sudden onset of sharp or severe pain
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Dislocated joint
  • Broken bones with deformity or that break the skin
  • Vaginal bleeding during a pregnancy
  • Major burn
  • Severe reaction to an insect bite, medication or food

It’s important to remember that children may display different symptoms than adults, and symptoms that are serious for a child may not be as serious for an adult. Children may also be unable to communicate their condition, which means an adult will have to interpret the behavior. Seek immediate medical attention if you think your child is having a medical emergency.

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