ER Vs. Urgent Care

More than 100 million Americans go to the emergency room every year. While most of us visit the ER only for true emergencies, according to theĀ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common reasons people visit the ER include stomach and abdominal pain, chest pain, fever, headache, and back pain. Some of these symptoms (like chest pain) could indicate serious conditions (such as a heart attack). But many do not.

A visit to the emergency room can cost up to five times more than a visit to an urgent-care center. Emergency-room treatment for non-emergency medical conditions is a major contributor to the rising cost of health care.

For many injuries and illnesses, an urgent-care clinic is the more appropriate place to go. Not only will you see trained nurses and doctors, you’ll often be seen more quickly than in the ER. Here is a general guide to indicate when to go to an emergency room and when an urgent-care visit might be a better option.

Emergency-room symptoms:

  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • Signs of a heart attack, such as chest pains that last more than two minutes
  • Signs of stroke, such as numbness of the face, arm, and leg on one side of the body, sudden loss of vision, or loss of speech
  • Severe shortness of breath or sudden dizziness
  • Major injuries such as broken bones, partial or total amputation of a limb, or trauma to the head
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal feelings

Urgent-care symptoms:

  • Cuts or wounds where bleeding is controlled
  • Sprains, strains, or bruises
  • Mild or moderate asthma attacks
  • Infections of the urinary tract, ear, or upper respiratory system.
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as sore throat, fever, coughing and congestion
  • Mild or moderate stomach pains or diarrhea
  • Rashes, insect bites, or sunburns

For those who don’t have a primary care provider, urgent care facilities can be a great resource. If you’ve just moved to a new area and you sprain your ankle, urgent-care services can see you right away. You don’t have to spend time trying to find a provider who is accepting new patients. Plus, most urgent-care facilities are open in the evenings and on weekends. They can even help you refill a prescription.