When Should You Go to an Urgent Care Clinic or the Emergency Room?

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It is 8:00 pm on a Friday, you fell on the basketball court and hurt your ankle. You do not want to wait until your primary care doctor’s office opens on Monday morning but do not think you need to go to a hospital emergency room. What are your options? The Urgent Care Association of America (UCAA) has reported that three million people go to urgent care clinics around the country every week. When you consider the fact that at least 25,000 Americans sprain their ankles every day, you may get the idea that if all of these people went to walk in clinics rather than emergency rooms, you might think that they would be less crowded if these injuries were treated at a walk in clinic instead. Emergency care needs to be administered in a hospital but many urgent injuries and illnesses can be treated at a walk in clinic.

What is the difference between an emergency room and urgent care center?

Emergency care and urgent care are not always the same thing. Many people confuse the two because they both include the insinuation that care is needed right away. True medical emergencies are those that may result in a stay in the hospital. Sometime you need care urgently but are not experiencing a problem that requires emergency care in a hospital. An ankle sprain or strain is exactly the kind of injury that is treated at an urgent care center. Urgent care clinics are for when injuries of illnesses happen suddenly. Care is needed right away but the emergency room is overkill.

There Are Times When You Really Do Need to Emergency Room:

There are times when a medical problem really does need to be treated in a hospital emergency room. Emergency care is needed when a condition can need quick or more complex and advanced treatments like surgery. Emergency care is needed for conditions that need to be treated in a hospital.

If you, or someone you care about, are experiencing any of the following, you should go to the local emergency room:

  • Sudden or persistent chest pain. If it radiates down your left arm or into your jaw or back or if your pain is associated with vomiting, shortness of breath or sweating, you need to be seen in the emergency room.
  • Sudden clumsiness, especially if it is accompanied by slurred speech or confusion.
    Problems breathing.
  • A mental status that changes rapidly, this can include suicidal or homicidal thoughts.
  • Any loss of consciousness.
  • Any head injury that includes a loss of consciousness.
  • Any fevers in newborn children.
  • Vision loss or other changes to vision that are sudden.
  • Bleeding that will not stop.
  • Any serious stab or gunshot wound.

This is not a complete list of conditions that require emergency care at a hospital. If you are unsure, you can call your primary care physician or go to an urgent care center. The medical professionals there will tell you if they think you need to be seen in a hospital emergency room.

There Are Times When You Need to Call 911:

It is never an easy decision about when you should call 911. There are times when people need emergency care and cannot risk driving yourself to the emergency room. Basically, if you suspect someone has had a stroke, heart attack or is bleeding severely. If a condition can result in death quickly, you need to call 911. For heart attacks and strokes, that is the only safe thing that you can do.

Urgent Care Centers Can Treat a Number of Common Illnesses and Injuries:

The care you receive at walk in clinics is not emergency care but it is urgent care. Most urgent care centers have x-ray machines and can treat sprains, strains and small, simple fractures. About 90% of all urgent care centers treat simple fractures. Nearly 85% of these clinics are open both during the week and on the weekend.

Examples of what can be treated at urgent care clinics include:

  • Muscle sprains and strains.
  • Persistent vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Sore throat and cough.
  • Painful urination.
  • Any fever that is not accompanied by a rash.

If you need a doctor right away, you may want to try an urgent care center instead of an emergency room.

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