Urgent Care vs. Emergency Care

When should you go to the emergency room and when is it best to go to urgent care? It used to be standard practice to go to the emergency room when ill or injured, but now that urgent care is an option, many people struggle to decide where to go. Illnesses and injuries occur all the time, especially when the doctor’s office is closed or the emergency department is full. Many health concerns simply can’t wait until a “better time” to accommodate the doctor’s office hours of availability. But often, these concerns don’t necessarily need to be treated in an emergency room, where caregivers are focused on the most serious and time-sensitive illnesses and injuries.

Whether you accidentally cut your finger while preparing dinner, twist or break an ankle chasing your child down a crowded hallway, or if your child slips and hits their head while playing with the family pet, there’s no need to wait for the immediate care you or your child may need.

What’s the Difference Between Urgent Care and the ER?

Knowing where to go for medical attention is important. Sure, both emergency rooms and urgent care centers specialize in treating many everyday health concerns and medical conditions. Urgent care may be the best choice for mild or annoying symptoms or wounds that can’t wait for a doctor’s appointment, but aren’t life threatening.

The primary difference between most emergency departments and urgent care centers is that the urgent care locations specialize in nonlife-threatening healthcare needs. The ER, however, is best for injuries that pose an immediate threat to survival or limb health.

Another difference between urgent care and emergency rooms is that at an ER care is provided regardless of patient insurance or financial status, while an urgent care office may request payment at the time of services.

Why Go to an Emergency Room?

Hospital emergency rooms are staffed and equipped to provide care and medical services for all types of urgent or potentially life-threatening ailments or injuries. Some of life’s most unfortunate events involve medical emergencies that happen unexpectedly and often outside regular business hours. The emergency room is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, to provide immediate medical care for injuries and health concerns that just can’t wait.

The emergency room is staffed with highly experienced physicians, nurses, and personnel and has specialists on-call for patients requiring additional and advanced care. These professionals are trained to handle medical emergencies for babies, children, teens, adults, and seniors.

Despite knowing that the ER is equipped to handle all kinds of medical events, you may still feel undecided about when it’s best to head to urgent care instead. Here are symptoms that mean it may be best to go to the emergency room:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain
  • Sudden numbness, weakness, or pain
  • Bleeding that won’t stop
  • Seizures
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Confusion, sudden inability to speak or move
  • High fever that won’t go down
  • Coughing up blood
  • Head injury or severe headache
  • Blood when you go to the bathroom
  • Severe asthma attack or allergies
  • Deep cuts or serious burns

Emergency room care is the highest level of care available for severe and potentially life-threatening health conditions.

Why Go to an Urgent Care Center?

Here’s a good rule to use when you’re ill or injured and wondering what to do: Is this an injury or condition a general or regular physician would treat the same day or recommend emergency or specialty care?

Urgent care doesn’t require appointments for patients to receive medical attention on the same day. For life’s urgent but not life-threatening medical conditions, urgent care is often a convenient choice.

Below are some conditions and symptoms that can typically be treated in an urgent care setting:

  • Mild fever, or cold and flu symptoms
  • Nausea and vomiting (if you’re throwing up blood, however, go to the ER)
  • Muscle strains, sprains, and some broken bones (if a bone has broken the skin, go to the ER).
  • Mild burns
  • Cuts that need stitches, but aren’t severely bleeding
  • UTIs
  • Mild asthma
  • Pink eye or other eye irritation
  • Ear infections
  • Moderate back pain
  • Skin rashes or infections
  • Dehydration

For many, urgent care is a convenience because they can get the medical care or services they need without delay, especially for issues that arise outside of standard business hours and on the weekends.

Just like with most convenience, there are limitations. Urgent care facilities don’t have the same caliber of advanced care, equipment, or professional staff as emergency rooms. Patients with injuries or illnesses requiring advanced or life-saving care are best suited for the local emergency room.

Why Your Choice Matters

Where you go for medical care matters in many ways. The most important goal at hand, when faced with pressing medical concerns that happen unexpectedly, is to prevent delays in care. Delays can be harmful. Many injuries and illnesses don’t require emergency room treatment. The emergency department sees and treats more patients than urgent care centers, and wait times are likely.

Why go to the ER for a mild sprain that only requires bandages and rest or urgent care for potentially life-threatening chest pain? Both types of medical centers provide the necessary medical services and treatments, but only one comes with higher costs and risk of delays, depending on the circumstance and medical necessity.

Though costs should not be a barrier to affordable and efficient medical care, they do have an impact on knowing when to go to the urgent care vs. emergency room. Many urgent care centers provide various medical and preventive care services at lower costs. However, if you are unsure if your condition is very serious or life-threatening—the emergency room may be the best choice.

Community Hospital of Huntington Park ER

When it comes to your health and well-being, there’s no need to experience symptoms when you know the care you need and can count on to keep you going strong, at a moment’s notice, day or night is available at the Community Hospital of Huntington Park Emergency Department.