Knowing the Difference Between Emergency Room and Urgent Care

Urgent care tigard

According to a recent Gallup poll, over 86% of American adults have health insurance that covers their medical care and protects them in case of an emergency. There are over 200,000 practicing family care physicians providing regular care for Americans. As of 2013, there were 5,025 emergency departments in the United States available for life-threatening emergencies.

While there used to be a gap in our medical industry between regular primary care and emergency room care, within the last decade, urgent care facilities have become common place and have filled that void. Knowing the difference between each of these medical institutions and when to visit which is critical for getting the care you need and helping the entire system function as it should. While you probably know when to visit your primary care physician, here is a quick overview of when to visit the emergency room and when to visit urgent care:

When to Visit the Emergency Room
By definition, the emergency medical care is care for illnesses and injuries that are life threatening or could result in permanent damage to the patient. It is important to use the emergency department strictly for this purpose, so that care for a life-threatening injury is not delayed due to emergency resources being tied up with non-emergency issues. Examples of emergency issues include:

  • Inability to breath, for any reason.
  • A broken or fractured bone in which the bone is protruding from the skin (otherwise, many urgent care facilities are equipped to handle minor bone injuries).
  • Symptoms of a seizure such as convulsions or loss of consciousness.
  • A serious injury to the skull, neck or spine.
  • An illness or injury that resulted in severe bleeding.
  • Any symptoms of a heart attack (such as chest pain) or stroke (interruption in mental facilities, such as slurred speech, loss of vision, inability to move properly, or confusion)

If you believe you are in an emergency situation, do not hesitate to call an ambulance. An ambulance can circumvent the delays of traffic laws and can also administer life-saving care as soon as they arrive and on the way to the hospital.

When to Visit Urgent Care
The “walk-in” nature of urgent care makes it a good resource for treatment any time you are unable to go to your own doctor but your injury or illness is not an emergency. In some cases, urgent care facilities offer services beyond what a typical primary care physician offers, including:

  • Performing lab services for blood work and medical testing onsite.
  • As mentioned before, most urgent care facilities offer x-ray services and fracture bone care. It’s a good idea to call your urgent care and check that this is offered before making a trip for a potential broken bone.
  • Intravenous fluids and medications.
  • Non-emergency breathing treatments.
  • Administering stitches for minor cuts that are not bleeding excessively.

Most urgent care facilities are open seven days a week, for hours that extend beyond your doctor’s regular hours, making them a good resource when you need a round of antibiotics or a similar medical issue, but can’t get into your doctor immediately.

Did we leave out any important details about when to visit an emergency room vs. urgent care? Please share your input with us in the comment section below.

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