Do you think that ER and urgent care are the same thing? It’s an easy assumption to make. In fact, many medical facilities offer both ER and urgent care clinics. And some of them have a single waiting room, making the line between ER and urgent care even more difficult to distinguish. However, ER and urgent care each serve their own purpose, and that purpose is extremely distinct from each other.
To help you out, we’ve simplified when to use urgent care, when to go straight to ER, and when your doctor is the best option.
Four Things You Need to Know About ER and Urgent Care
- Neither ER or Urgent Care Replace Your Primary Care Doctor
Your local urgent care, the emergency rooms that service your area, and your primary care physician’s office are all staffed by medical professionals and will all treat your medical needs. However, there are some instances that your primary care physician is best suited to address. When you need to change or begin a long term treatment, your primary care physician will be the one who works with you throughout the journey to good health. If you take your long term medical treatment to urgent care or ER, the medical professional who treats you is going to give you the treatment you need for your immediate well-being, and give you instructions to follow-up with your primary care physician for ongoing treatment.
The point is that your primary care physician, ER, and urgent care do not replace each other. Each serves its own unique position in our medical infrastructure.
- Urgent Care Can Provide Treatments That Your Doctor is Unable to.
The textbook definition of urgent care is a facility that treats medical needs that require attention within 24 hours. Most urgent care clinics are open on nights and weekends, on a walk-in basis, so you don’t have to worry that you won’t be able to get an appointment for your medical need.
In some cases this is self-explanatory: You need a round of antibiotics and your doctor can’t fit you in their schedule until next Tuesday. You are running a high temperature and it’s Friday evening. However, you might be surprised by how much an urgent care can offer. If you need IV fluids, your doctor’s office would not be able to help you, but an urgent care can. If you need an x-ray or fracture care, you might be surprised to learn that an urgent care can provide treatment to you! Many of the treatment that you’d assume you’d have to go to emergency room for even though they are not emergencies can be offered at your urgent care clinic, without the long wait times or hospital surcharges that emergency rooms are sometimes known for.
- But Urgent Care Does Not Replace the Emergency Room
The emergency room has one job, and it does that job well: to administer life-saving medical care when the need arises. Urgent care is not equipped to do that and you should never take a life-threatening medical need to urgent care. A few instances that should only be treated by emergency care include:
- Any signs of a heart attack, such as chest pains.
- Symptoms of stroke, such as loss of speech or vision, disorientation, inability to move one or more limbs.
- Any injury that has resulted in severe blood loss.
- Traumatic injuries to the head or neck.
- Inability to breath.
- Loss of consciousness.
When you or someone you are with is experiencing an illness or injury that could impact their viability, every moment matters. Bypassing urgent care and taking them straight to ER, where the medical staff is equipped to life-saving care immediately is critical.
- Understanding the Difference Between Urgent Care and ER Saves Lives
Ideally, the ER should reserved for life-saving medical needs. However, many times the ER gets filled up with patients who have pink eye, or need a quick prescription for a Z pack, or other important needs that aren’t emergencies. When this happens, the resources that are meant to save lives aren’t available when a real emergency comes in. If you understand the function of ER and urgent care, you know when seek care at which, and that choice could potentially save someone’s life.
Do you have anything to add to this list? Please share with us in the comment section below.