ER or Urgent Care? Guidelines to Help You Decide

Health & Wellness

February 28, 2019

COMMENTARY by Nikki Stuckwisch, MD, IU Health Urgent Care

When accidents, injuries or illnesses occur suddenly and unexpectedly, it can be hard to know the best place to seek medical care. Serious, complex or life-threatening medical emergencies always require evaluation and treatment in an emergency department. But for less severe, more common illnesses and conditions, neighborhood urgent care centers offer a variety of benefits, including lower costs, shorter wait times and less risk of exposure to ill patients.

So, how do you know where to go? Every circumstance is different, but there are some general guidelines to follow in determining the best place to seek care. Here are some examples:

Chest pain – If pain or pressure in the chest is severe and accompanied by sweating, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, or if the pain spreads to the neck, jaw or shoulder/arm, go to the ER or call an ambulance. People who are at risk of heart disease or have high blood pressure should also seek treatment in an emergency department.

Stroke symptoms. Regardless of age, individuals displaying any of the signs or symptoms of stroke should get immediate medical attention at an emergency room. Identified by symptoms and conditions that spell FAST: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 9-1-1, potential strokes are best treated in an ER where advanced imaging and clot-dissolving medications are available and can be given quickly.

Broken bones. Many urgent care centers have X-ray services and splinting equipment to diagnose and treat broken bones. However, if the bone is visible or protruding from the skin or the skin is discolored, signaling vascular damage, treatment in an ER is advised.

Bleeding and open wounds. If bleeding does not stop after 15 minutes of direct, uninterrupted pressure, visit an emergency room. If bleeding subsides and the cut is deep, providers at urgent care centers are trained to close wounds with stitches and can call specialists to manage follow up, if needed.

Illness in newborns and infants. High fever or sudden illness in infants under three months should always be evaluated in the emergency department if symptoms occur after hours or consultation with a primary care provider or pediatrician isn’t possible.

If you’re uncertain where to seek care, go to the nearest healthcare facility or arrange for emergency transportation for more serious situations. Be familiar with the healthcare services offered by your local urgent care center, and if it’s not an emergency, call the urgent care center to find out if they’re equipped to treat the situation.

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Related Services

Urgent Care

Urgent care centers treat most minor injuries, illnesses and conditions any time of day with no appointment needed.

Stroke

A condition where a blood clot or broken blood vessel interrupts the blood flow to the brain, resulting in brain cell loss, and loss of cognitive (thinking) and physical function.