When a medical crisis strikes, it is never a good thing and is always at least somewhat scary but is it a true emergency? Do you need emergency room care? Can I go to one of the many urgent care locations? How can I tell? While there are definitely times when a trip to the emergency room is necessary, there are other times when waiting until the doctor’s office opens is not recommended or necessary. Now if you are really not sure, either check with your doctor’s office or just go to the emergency room. It has been estimated that 48% of the people who seek care from an emergency room doctor could have received care at an after hours urgent care clinic.
Go to the ER if:
- Any sign of a heart attack such as chest pain (especially if it radiates down the arm or jaw or you are sweating)
- Difficulty speaking, confusion, changed mental states
- Newborn baby with a fever
- Head injury
- Vision loss
- Paralysis or weakness
- Large blood loss
- Other — if you are unsure, call your doctor or go to the emergency room
When to visit an urgent care clinic:
Urgent care centers are open when many people’s doctor’s office is not. Doctors in urgent care centers can treat a variety of illnesses and injuries that often send people to the emergency room. The benefit of going to one of the urgent care locations is that the wait is usually shorter and the experience is a lot less stressful.
Examples of what is treated at urgent care locations:
- Minor sports injuries such as sprains and strains
- Minor broken bones such as fingers and toes
- Severe sore throat
- Persistent diarrhea
If you have a sense that one of these conditions is starting or this is something you have experienced before, you should try to get in to see your primary care physician. You may be able to get in for a same day appointment. It is always good to let your regular doctor so there is a continuity of care. Your own doctor knows you and is in the best position to give you an accurate diagnosis.
Urgent care clinics can also be very good for minor sports injuries in small children who might be scared by the activity in the emergency room or for elderly patients who cannot stand the long wait time. Again, this is not for true medical emergencies such as strokes or heart attacks but milder injuries and illnesses that just cannot wait for the next business day.
Urgent care facilities are becoming more and more common. Most urgent care locations are open every day (85%). Nearly 70% are open before 9:00 am. The Urgent Care Association of America has estimated that 3 million people visit urgent care locations every week. Urgent care medicine is practiced by approximately 20,000 physicians nationwide. Upper respiratory infections were the most common reason people sought out care at one of the urgent care locations.