How To Know When To Visit The ER And When To Visit An Urgent Care

When you’re not feeling well or you have a medical emergency, it’s understandable if your first inclination is to seek medical attention.

But where exactly should you go? The answer isn’t as simple as you think because it largely depends on what sort of medical problem you’re facing. If you awake in the middle of the night in severe pain and make a trip to the emergency room, you’ll more than likely get relief, but you’ll also more than likely be in for a long wait and a costly bill.

If you awake in the middle of the night not feeling well, but with a manageable problem, you might be better served visiting an urgent care center. An estimated three million Americans visit one each week and you’ll get receive care much faster and for a wide variety of ills.

Looking at the words “emergency room” and “urgent care,” both imply there are illness or injuries that need to be addressed right here and now. But they are very different. Emergency rooms are for emergencies and urgent care centers are essentially a middle man between the ER and a visit to your regular doctor.

You should visit a hospital emergency if you’ve got:

  • Chest pains and breathing problems
  • Severe cuts that require a lot of stitching
  • Severe issues relating to cold and flu
  • Issues related to a pregnancy
  • Broken bones
  • Severe burns
  • A concussion
  • Injuries involving your eyes or your head.

From pink eye to STDs to sports injuries to asthma, urgent care centers are rapidly expanding their range of what they can offer in terms of medical care. You should visit an urgent care center if you’re dealing with:

  • Sports injuries like minor sprains
  • Fever (with no rash)
  • Vomiting
  • Small cuts or minor burns
  • Dehydration

It should be noted that the idea of visiting an urgent care center is to get a quick remedy to an urgent, but non-life threatening medical problem and if you can’t get in to see a doctor. It’s still important to set and keep regular appointments with your doctor.

If you’re set on visiting an urgent care center, here are some helpful things to know:

  • You’ll still have to wait: The average urgent care center handles about three patients visits an hour and about 50 visits per day. If you’re visiting an urgent care center in a bigger city, there’s a good chance you’ll still have to wait a bit. Your wait will usually be shorter than it is at an ER, but you’ll still have to wait.
  • You’ll have to pay: Urgent care centers are very help for millions of people each year, but they’re not free and you’ll have to pay when you receive care. Depending on your insurance, you might expect to pay anywhere from $25 to $75. If you don’t have insurance, make sure to have cash or a credit card at the ready.
  • Do some research: Not all urgent care centers are the same and there’s more than a few that aren’t certified. The last thing you want is to walk into an urgent care center for a specific medical issue only to find out that particular center offers limited services. Taking a few minutes to research urgent cares in your area will help you find one that will be able to help you.
  • Urgent care isn’t the ER: This point was stated earlier, but it bears repeating. If you’ve got any of the more severe issues mentioned above, you’re better served bucking up and visiting the ER than going to an urgent care. Urgent care facilities aren’t meant to treat major medical issues and if you’re dealing severe pain or heart troubles for instance, ER doctors will be able to help you more than urgent care doctors.


Emergency room doctors and urgent care doctors play important roles in their respective arenas. But it’s important not to jump the gun when visiting either one. If you’re dealing with a medical issue, figure out if the problem is more severe and requires an ER trip or is a more minor issue and can be helped at an urgent care center.

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