Urgent care or emergency room, which one do you need? Whether it's an injury or an illness, understanding which type of medical service provider is right for you is the first step to getting care. Before waiting hours in the ER or getting told that you need services that the clinic doesn't offer, check out the reasons to go (or not to go) to each of these options.
Some illnesses are minor and don't require complex types of treatments. A sinus infection, head cold, or strep throat are all examples of bugs that an urgent care clinic can easily treat. The doctors of the clinic will evaluate your situation, do an exam, and (if needed) prescribe medications. In some cases, you can even fill your antibiotic prescription at the clinic itself. But, if you have a serious or chronic illness, a high fever, are dehydrated to the point of needing IV fluids, or have any other seemingly severe symptom, the emergency room is the place to go. The ER doctors can provide treatments such as IV antibiotics or admit you to the hospital if needed.
Injuries and Imaging
Most urgent care centers offer imaging services. If you think you have a break, you can get an x-ray and possibly a cast, sling, or splint there. But, if your injury requires further testing, you may need to head out to the ER. Emergency departments can provide MRI's, CT scans, and tests that are more sophisticated than a regular x-ray. Along with getting the right kind of test, serious injuries that involved deep wounds or bleeding or may require surgery are best served by the ER.
Well-Visits and Physicals
Not every medical visit is for an illness or injury. A work, school or sports physical requires a doctor's review. Sometimes getting in to see your primary care physician just isn't an option. If you can't get an appointment with your regular doctor in the time frame that you're on, urgent care clinics are the best option. These clinics typically have short wait times, making your entire well-visit a fairly quick process. In comparison, an emergency room visit would take much longer (possibly hours).
Before choosing an on the spot medical treatment provider, review your symptoms. If you're not experiencing a serious illness or injury, or you need well-patient care, an urgent care clinic may be the way to go. But, if you have any concerns that your medical issue is serious or may require hospitalization, the ER is the choice for you. Keep in mind, only a qualified medical professional can give you healthcare advice or assess the situation. If you have any doubts or concerns, call your doctor, the clinic, or the hospital first. If the situation is in any way an emergency, go to the ER (or call 911) right away. Always take your health seriously. Something like a high fever can quickly spiral out of control. Only a licensed medical pro can make a diagnosis and provide the proper care that you need to get well again.