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Should You Go To Urgent Care Instead of the ER?

In recent years, urgent care facilities have popped up all over the nation. In years past, the only option was to visit a family care practice or go straight to the ER. Thus, with the emergence of urgent care facilities, people are left with many questions like what is an urgent care, what types of illnesses and injuries does an urgent care treat, and does an urgent care take the place of an emergency room? While urgent cares are an important niche in comprehensive healthcare, it is important to understand that they do not take the place of an emergency room. Simply put, there are times when it is most appropriate to visit urgent care and times when it will be necessary to go to the ER instead. The key is to understand the purpose of each and what types of situations warrant a visit to the ER, instead of urgent care. Continue reading to learn more about urgent care facilities and their place in healthcare.

What Is an Urgent Care Facility?

An urgent care facility is a medical clinic that provides primary care services for minor health problems. These clinics can also handle some minor surgical and diagnostic procedures. They typically offer walk-in appointments and accept patients with or without medical insurance. Most urgent care centers are open on evenings and weekends, so you can wait until after work hours to get your problem taken care of. Urgent cares work to bridge an important gap in healthcare, however, they are not meant to replace hospitals, emergency rooms, or family practices. If you have a chronic illness or life-threatening condition, you may need to see a family physician or go to your local emergency room. Although, if you need a quick fix for something as simple as a cold or flu, then an urgent care center is fully capable of assisting you.

Types Of Illnesses and Conditions That Are Treated At Urgent Care Centers

Urgent care centers are designed to provide basic medical care for common ailments such as:

• Cold and Flu Symptoms (including sore throat) 

• Diarrhea 

• Coughing 

• Headaches 

• Ear Infections 

• Minor cuts/wounds

Back Pain

• Sinus Problems 

• Sprains & Strains 

• Rashes 

• Allergies 

• Skin infections 

• Eye Infections

• Acute bronchitis 

• Asthma 

• Bronchiolitis 

• Pneumonia 

• Upper Respiratory Tract Infection 

• UTI • Etc.

While these conditions may seem straightforward, it is important to note that urgent care facilities are not equipped to handle major emergencies. For example, if you suffer a heart attack, stroke, severe allergic reaction, or other life-threatening condition, then you should immediately call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room.

Simply put, the primary role of an urgent care facility is to take some of the load off emergency rooms by providing care for non-life-threatening illnesses or injuries. These facilities can also provide standard medical services during the evening and weekend hours to those who may get sick after their family physician has closed, but do not wish to visit the emergency room.

If you are unsure whether you need to be seen at the emergency room, it is often advantageous to go to urgent care first. They will be able to advise you on your best course of action. That way, you don’t waste time and money going to the ER when you could’ve received proper diagnosis and treatment at an urgent care. Despite this, ALWAYS go to the emergency room FIRST, if you feel you are experiencing a life-threatening medical emergency.

How Does a Visit to An Emergency Room Compare to Visiting an Urgent Care Center?

When it comes to treating certain illnesses or injuries, going to the emergency room is often the best course of action. Some examples include:

• Severe bleeding 

• Chest pain 

• Stroke 

• Heart attacks 

• Trauma 

• Burns 

• Poisonings 

• Epilepsy 

• Acute Mental Health Events 

• Neurological issues

If you experience any of the above conditions or any other life-threatening illness or injury, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention. However, if you are experiencing milder symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, earache, cough, or sinus infection, an urgent care facility will typically be a sufficient replacement for the emergency room.

Why Choose Urgent Care?

Often times, people choose to visit an urgent care facility over a family physician due to the convenience of being able to walk in and get treated rather than having to make an appointment. Also, unlike going to an emergency room where you must wait hours to see a doctor, urgent care centers usually have shorter wait times. That way you can avoid sitting around, waiting for hours in an uncomfortable waiting room/exam room, while sick or in pain, until your condition is evaluated.

Furthermore, if you live far away from an emergency room, it might not be feasible to travel there on short notice, making an urgent care center invaluable in getting you the care you need in a timely manner. Since urgent care centers are placed all over the country, (even in areas that have limited medical resources), the close proximity of these facilities to patient homes, makes it easier for patients to receive treatment without having to drive long distances. Simply put, urgent care facilities make getting treatment quick and easy so you can spend more time at home recovering from your illness or injury instead of waiting to obtain medical care.

Lastly, urgent care centers provide many different types of treatments including physical exams, vaccinations, lab tests, prescriptions, etc. In addition, they offer diagnostic testing such as X-rays, ultrasounds, blood draws, and CT scans. Many of these services used to require a trip to the local ER or hospital. With the emergence of urgent care facilities, the process of receiving necessary services for illness or injuries, that don’t require immediate medical treatment, has been streamlined. Therefore, regardless of what type of ailment you have, an urgent care will likely have the testing equipment and medical practitioners available to diagnose and treat your problem.

In conclusion, when determining if you should go to the ER or an urgent care, you must consider the severity of your injury/illness to help you make the appropriate decision. With urgent care facilities available to treat a wide range of ailments, it is no longer necessary to go to the ER anytime you are sick or injured during off hours. Thus, the burden is reduced on emergency medical centers, allowing better and faster treatment for all. 

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