Should I Go to the ER or Urgent Care?

Note: This article is meant to provide general information on the difference between ER and urgent care. It is not intended as medical advice for your specific situation, injury or condition.

Unfortunately, illnesses and injuries can happen at the least convenient times…like the evening or weekend when your doctor’s office is closed. Or, maybe you’re not feeling well but you can’t get in to see your doctor for several days. These situations leave you faced with the decision of how to handle your immediate health care need. Should you go to urgent care or the ER?

Understanding the main differences between urgent care and emergency room can help you make an informed decision.

Emergency Rooms

While the ER is equipped to handle any immediate medical situation, first and foremost it is meant for true emergencies. These are serious conditions and injuries that threaten life, limb or eyesight.

Here are examples of situations that call for a trip to the ER (this is not a comprehensive list):

  • Major trauma or accident
  • Heart attack or heart attack symptoms like chest pain
  • Stroke or stroke symptoms
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizure or loss of consciousness
  • Severe, uncontrollable bleeding
  • Head trauma
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Poisoning or suspected overdose
  • Sudden loss of vision or blurred vision
  • Sudden weakness or tingling
  • Sudden, severe headache

Emergency rooms are found at most hospitals and are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They have the widest spectrum of services for emergency care, including a range of diagnostic tests and access to medical specialists. This specialized care comes with a high price tag, and the ER is by far the most expensive treatment option. Also, if you are not truly experiencing a medical emergency, you may wait a long time before receiving treatment.

Urgent Care

Urgent care centers treat patients with illnesses or injuries that aren’t serious enough to require a trip to the ER, but do need to be seen quickly. While specific services vary by center, here are some examples of common conditions and injuries that urgent care handles:

  • Cough and cold
  • Flu symptoms
  • Fever
  • Ear infection
  • Eye infection
  • Sinus infection
  • Sore throat
  • Rashes
  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Insect bites, bee stings
  • Minor injuries and burns
  • Sprains and strains
  • Fractures, dislocations

Most urgent care centers are open after normal business hours, including evenings and weekends. Many offer on-site diagnostic tests, including X-rays and blood tests. Treatment at an urgent care center is far less expensive than the ER, and generally will have shorter wait times.

When you need immediate care and can’t get in to see your doctor, a center like Twin Rivers Urgent Care can help fill in the gap and avoid a long, costly trip to the ER.