How to Decide Between Urgent Care or a Trip to the ER

Today, there are options available for those who need to be seen by a physician after hours, or in the case of an emergency. Some individuals, however, get caught up in wondering if they should go to an urgent care clinic or to the emergency room. Understanding more about each type of treatment center may help patients to make the decision more easily.

Urgent Care Review

An urgent care center is typically the most useful for those who are unable to get an appointment with their regular doctor, but still need to be seen by a physician. This may be due to a doctor’s already overcrowded schedule, or to the fact that the regular doctor’s office is closed.

Patients that would typically take their health concerns to their own doctor should visit an urgent care center for treatment. Such centers are set up just like a typical doctor’s office and can assist with routine treatments in much the same way. Some urgent care centers can further assist walk-in patients when they have an in-house dispensary available to fill any prescriptions that the patient may need.

According to the Urgent Care Association, there are over 7,000 centers in the United States, and that number is growing rapidly. The average wait time in such centers is half an hour or less. This type of facility is typically available near shopping centers, medical offices or near mixed-use buildings. Almost all of these urgent care centers are open 7 days a week for a minimum of 4 hours each day.

Emergency Room Review

Individuals should be encouraged to go to the nearest emergency room for true medical emergencies and situations which may be life-threatening. Emergency rooms are equipped to evaluate and deal with medical emergencies, though patients with less critical needs may be required to wait anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to be seen and evaluated. Emergency rooms are open 24/7 and have differing check-in procedures and wait times depending on the injury or illness.

It may be difficult for someone who has had an accident or who is in pain to decide if their case is truly an emergency. Individuals should head directly to the emergency room if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Severe bleeding
  • Chest pain
  • A severe allergic reaction
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • An intense headache
  • A high fever

When a Call to 911 is the Best Option

Should a patient need care requiring a trip to an emergency room, but cannot safely get there, then it is time to call 911. With this option, there is less risk of symptoms preventing the patient from actually getting to the hospital. Trained paramedics will be able to evaluate, assess and even provide basic treatment if it is needed en route.

At times, a call to 911 can make a huge difference. For instance, a heart attack or a stroke can do additional damage to the brain and heart the longer they continue. Paramedics can often offer initial treatments or medications that will stop further damage from occurring. In such situations, every minute is vitally important to the patient’s future wellbeing.

Information Needed at Either Urgent Care or the ER

Patients who will be seen either in an urgent care center or in an emergency room should come prepared with specific items if at all possible. These include:

  • A form of ID such as a driver license or other type of state-issued photo ID card.
  • A current insurance card.
  • A list of any current medications they may be taking.
  • A list of anything the patient may be allergic to.
  • A list of dates detailing any minor or major surgeries in the last year.
  • A copy of your auto insurance card if your injury was from a car accident.
  • A list of current medical conditions you are being treated for.
  • Any legal health-related documents.
  • A list of emergency contacts.

Having this information readily available often means that the patient is able to be treated more quickly instead of waiting to find out about things such as allergies and any current medical diagnoses.

Taking time to know the difference between an urgent care center and an emergency room before the need arises makes the decision simple for those who need to be seen by a doctor. It also benefits the entire community as those with less severe injuries and illnesses opt for an urgent care facility, thus freeing up space in the emergency room for true emergencies.

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