When you get injured or come down with an illness, your first instinct might be to go to your primary care physician for treatment. Unfortunately, primary care physicians often require appointments that must be booked days or weeks in advance. What do you do when you need care right away? Well, if you need after-hours or immediate care, then your options are limited to an urgent care or emergency room. The facility that you should choose depends on the severity of the condition.
For instance, if you experience symptoms of a life or limb-threatening illness or injury, then you should call 911 or go to your nearest ER. Emergency rooms are equipped to treat the most serious illnesses and injuries, including major trauma, stroke, cardiac events, and other medical or psychiatric emergencies. Some conditions, such as acute appendicitis, may require surgical treatment that can only be done in an emergency or inpatient setting.
As for urgent care facilities, these are reserved for treating minor injuries and non-life threatening illnesses. People who have small cuts, sprained ankles, migraines, sore throats, upper respiratory symptoms, or other non-emergent illnesses can benefit from visiting an urgent care rather than an ER. Compared to your PCP’s office, many urgent care facilities offer expanded services and rapid access to doctors when you need it. Some urgent care facilities even offer on-site laboratory testing and diagnostic imaging.
Making the Choice
Sometimes people with non-life threatening illnesses or injuries choose to go to the emergency room rather than an urgent care. Although you should never hesitate to be seen at the emergency room if you feel like you need it, you will often wait longer and pay more than if you had presented to an urgent care for the same symptoms. Before making the choice of where to be seen, you should consider both the severity of your symptoms and your medical history to determine whether or not your condition warrants urgent or emergent care. Some insurance groups, health groups, and universities offer their members a phone-triage service where you can speak to a nurse to help you decide where to be seen.
The bottom line is that many conditions are appropriate for urgent care, while some require the resources of an emergency room. Knowing the difference can save you time, money, and offer the most effective healthcare for your specific condition.
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