Urgent vs. Emergency

When an unexpected illness or accident occurs, time is of the essence, but choosing between a trip to the emergency room or a visit to urgent care can be nerve-wracking. When the health and well-being of you or your loved ones hang in the balance, you want to know you’re making the right decision. That’s why it’s essential to understand the medical services provided by urgent care centers and emergency rooms.

Determine the Level of Care Needed

Broken bones or a sprained ankle? The flu or something more serious? The first step when deciding where to go involves making a quick assessment of the possible illnesses or injuries. First, ask yourself if you believe the injury is life-threatening or life-altering. For life-altering decisions, urgent care is your best choice. Generally speaking, fevers and flu, burns and cuts, and sprains and bruises can be handled by your local urgent care facility.

“In most cases, a trip to the emergency room will be significantly more expensive than a visit to an urgent care clinic.”

On the other hand, if the injuries appear to be life-threatening, then the emergency room is the better option. More serious injuries, like a broken bone, bleeding that cannot be stopped with bandages or applied pressure, or severe fevers in small children or the elderly warrant a trip to the emergency room. Don’t forget, life-threatening situations, like severe chest pains, shortness of breath, seizures, or a traumatic injury from a severe fall or vehicle accident require an immediate call to 911.

Assess Your Resources

In most cases, a trip to the emergency room will be significantly more expensive than a visit to an urgent care clinic. In addition, many health insurance policies can limit the amount of coverage for emergency room services, while many urgent care clinics usually follow the same insurance co-pay and coverage limits as your primary care physician. In addition, if you believe you will need follow-up care from your regular doctor, keep in mind that many urgent care clinics work in concert with local medical providers. Finally, remember that urgent care staff understand their limits and will make sure to transfer any critical patients to a hospital emergency room if the patient needs more comprehensive care than can be provided at the clinic.

Review Your Timetable

Emergency rooms are designed to treat patients quickly and comprehensively, admitting patients on a triage system that prioritizes life-threatening situations. Urgent care facilities, on the other hand, often substitute for regular doctor visits and operate on a first-come/first-serve basis. If you are not dealing with a life-threatening situation, an urgent care facility might actually be the faster choice. That’s because emergency rooms prioritize care based on the severity of the illness or injury involved, and if your case is deemed less dangerous, you will have to wait for others to be treated before you see a doctor. For urgent care clinics, on the other hand, patients are seen in the order in which they arrive.

Staying Safe

They say the best defense is a good offense, and that’s never truer than when it comes to your health or the health of a loved one. Healthy eating, moderate exercise, and making sure to visit your primary care physician regularly can help you avoid unexpected trips to the emergency room or urgent care. It’s also important to monitor any prescription medication, stay informed of the latest health news regarding flu outbreaks or other health hazards, and check in regularly with loved ones. A small ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure, and with a few small steps, you can make sure you limit expensive and stressful medical emergencies.

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