When to Go to the Emergency Room vs When to Go to Urgent Care: What’s the Difference?

when to go to the emergency room

Each year, emergency rooms see 136.9 million visitors. Yet only 9% of those visitors are admitted into the hospital.

But where should people go when they have a serious medical concern? Often, an urgent care center is the best option.

Read on to learn when to go to the emergency room and when to visit an urgent care center.

What is Urgent Care?

An urgent care center is a medical center that offers medical help for serious, but not life-threatening, issues.

Urgent care centers have doctors and nurses on site and often have x-ray machines and labs on site. Unlike your general practitioner’s office, urgent care centers are open late as well as on weekends and holidays.

If you have a medical issue that requires care within 24 hours, you should choose an urgent care center if you can’t get an appointment with your family doctor.

An urgent care center is a less expensive option than an emergency room. And doctors will often see you much more quickly than if you go to an emergency room with a non-life threatening condition.

When to Go to the Nearest Urgent Care Center

You should go to an urgent care center if you have a minor cut that requires stitches, a burn or sprain. 

Earaches and infections, animal bites, asthma, and flu-like symptoms are all conditions that can be treated at an urgent care center.

Back and joint pain, a UTI and coughs or colds are all concerns that should be brought to an urgent care center, not the emergency room. 

As a general rule, choose the nearest urgent care center when your medical concern is not threatening your life or any body part.

What Is an Emergency Room for?

An emergency room (ER) in a hospital is meant for medical emergencies. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to deal with any life-threatening situations.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

Trauma, emergency surgeries, and unusual symptoms require a visit to the ER.

If you have uncontrolled bleeding or are coughing or vomiting blood, you should head to your local emergency room.

Signs of stroke or heart attacks such as numbness, weakness, difficulty speaking, dizziness, shortness of breath, and loss of coordination should be looked at in the emergency room.

If you have a severe asthma attack or allergic reaction, time is of the essence. The emergency room is a good choice in this situation.

If you suffered a head injury or any type of major trauma, you’ll want to visit an emergency room.

Seizures or loss of consciousness requires a trip to the ER. Drug overdose, chest pain, and pressure are also signs that you need to go to the emergency room.

If you have a severe cut or burn that is threatening your limb or life, head to the nearest emergency room as soon as possible.

Severe abdominal pain may be a symptom of various serious medical issues. Especially when accompanied by swelling, fatigue or nausea.

Final Thoughts

There you have it. A complete guide to when to go to the emergency room and when to head to an urgent care center.

Remember, if your condition is not life or limb-threatening, choose the urgent care center. You’ll have faster service and a lower cost.

Before you visit your local urgent center, download the patient forms and bring them with you.