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Should I go to the emergency room or urgent care?

Who is this for?

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This information can help you figure out where to go for medical treatment when you need it most.

When you’re sick or injured, the last thing you want to do is to have to decide whether to go to an emergency room or an urgent care center. 

Understanding the differences between the two options now will give you peace of mind later.

The difference between an emergency room and an urgent care center

Emergency Rooms:

  • Treat severe and life-threatening conditions
  • Hospital emergency rooms have specially trained doctors, paramedics, nurses, and other support staff that can recognize, diagnose and make recommendations on a wide variety of medical issues
  • Emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week

Urgent Care Centers:

  • Focus on diagnosing and treating conditions that aren’t life-threatening yet they need to be taken care of right away
  • Offer quality care on a walk-in basis
  • Have extended evening and weekend hours
  • Typically provide more complex services than a doctor’s office

What are some common reasons to visit an emergency room?

You may choose an emergency room if you’re having:

  • Chest pain
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stroke
  • Severe bleeding
  • A head injury
  • Other major trauma

What are some common reasons to visit an urgent care center?  

You may choose an urgent care center if you have:

  • A sprained ankle
  • Ear infections
  • Fever or flu-like symptoms
  • Allergic reactions
  • Minor burns or injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Coughs, colds, sore throats
  • Animal bites

What are the advantages of going to an urgent care center?

In most situations, you’ll find that you save time and money by going to an urgent care instead of an emergency room.  

If you have an injury or illness such as a sprained ankle or an ear infection, you may end up waiting for hours in the emergency room and paying hundreds of dollars for your care.

Most urgent care centers are open for extended hours, and they are often able to accommodate you much more quickly. Also, you may end up paying lower copays at an urgent care center. Check your plan’s benefits to find out your out-of-pocket costs.

If you’re ever in doubt about which care facility to choose, it’s a good idea to ask your primary doctor for guidance. And if you can’t reach your doctor, you might want to call an urgent care center in your neighborhood.  You may also choose from the approved list of urgent care centers.

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