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Urgent Care vs. ER: Where Should You Go?

There has been an emergency, but how bad is it? Should you go to Urgent Care or rush to the ER? What if your situation is non-life threatening, but your regular physician is unavailable? It can be scary when there has been an injury or unexpected illness, and you always want to seek treatment as quickly as possible; but it’s important to know your options ahead of time. Making the right choices in case of an emergency can potentially save a life.


Any time you are in a severe condition or life-threatening situation, go to the emergency room or call 911. Urgent Care centers are not typically equipped to handle major medical emergencies, so the ER is your best bet in case of a critical event. Emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day, seven days per week, and offer a broad range of specialized care.

Reasons to visit the ER include:

  • Signs of a heart attack that last two minutes or longer, including chest pain
  • Signs of stroke, like sudden onset of numbness in any extremity
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Heavy bleeding or bleeding that won’t stop after 10 minutes of pressure
  • Poisoning
  • Complicated fractures (i.e. bone through the skin)
  • Major injuries, such as head injury
  • Unexplained drowsiness or disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of hearing
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • High fever (104° for a child; any fever for an infant less than 6 months old)
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Seizures

In some cases, such as seizures, stroke, or heart attack, it is better if a friend or loved one can call 911 for an ambulance rather than drive to the ER. If you are by yourself, this can be a very scary situation indeed, so it’s a good idea to have a cellphone on you at all times. Paramedics onboard an ambulance can provide treatment on the way to the hospital, which can be life saving.

Urgent Care

The CDC estimates that nearly half of patients who go to the ER do so because their doctor’s office is closed. Such visits are often unnecessary, and Urgent Care can be a much better choice. An ER visit typically involves high costs and long wait-times, so you might be avoiding an unneeded hassle as well. Urgent Care centers provide treatment for non-life threatening medical needs, including sprains, fractures, burns, lacerations, rashes, bronchitis and pneumonia. You can visit Urgent Care when your regular physician is unavailable, after regular hospital hours and when you don’t have an appointment (most Urgent Care centers allow walk-ins). You can visit Urgent

Care if you are experiencing:

  • Sore Throat
  • Urinary Tract Infections or painful urination
  • Asthma (non-critical)
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Minor trauma
  • Bronchitis
  • Animal and insect bites
  • Cuts and lacerations
  • Nose bleeds

Many centers also provide X-rays, diagnostic tests and on-site repair of lacerations for patients. Take a look here to see what you can have treated at Five Star Urgent Care.

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