Urgent Care vs Emergency Room: What Constitutes an Emergency?

It happens—you are ill and can’t get into your doctor or you get hurt and need immediate attention. What do you do?

If you wonder where everyone in the U.S. goes for emergency care, let’s take a look at the numbers. There were more than 130 million emergency visits. There are 7,100 urgent care centers in the U.S. that provide care for 160 million U.S. patients each year, which is more frequent than ER visits. 

Still torn between going to an urgent care vs emergency room? Read on to learn when you should actually go to the emergency room.

What’s the Difference Between Urgent Care vs Emergency Room?

It might be hard to determine what the difference is between urgent and emergency care because the terms are pretty similar. There are distinct differences between the medical facilities.

Walk-in clinics or urgent care facilities are available if your regular doctor is not available and you are sick or injured. If you would normally go to your family care doctor, then urgent care is more appropriate.

Emergency rooms provide care at all hours and are equipped to handle all critical needs. These facilities are best for complex, life-threatening, or traumatic conditions. 

When You Should Go to ER

Several medical conditions that need advanced or rapid treatment such as surgery. If you have any of these symptoms, it is best to go to the emergency room: 

  • Chest pain
  • Issues breathing
  • Seizures
  • Broken bones and dislocated joints
  • Concussion or other head injuries
  • Fainting
  • Bleeding when pregnant
  • Severe burns
  • Eye injuries
  • Severe cuts
  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme flu conditions

The main difference is the severity of the health problem. Trust your gut. If you feel it is serious, go to the emergency room. 

When You Should Go to Urgent Care

Urgent care centers are perfect for less severe conditions or if something happens outside of your doctor’s office hours. If you have one of these conditions, it’s best to go to urgent care:

  • Sore throat
  • Sinus or ear problems
  • Minor stitches
  • Fever (ER may be better for toddlers and infants with extreme fevers)
  • Minor fractures
  • Back pain
  • Rashes and minor burns
  • Cold or flu symptoms

Urgent care Los Angeles can handle these issues quickly, and you don’t have to worry about getting an appointment. 

Other Things to Consider Before Making Your Choice

There are other things you need to think about before you decide where to go. If your condition is not deemed an emergency by the hospital, you won’t be seen as quickly as someone with an emergency. If you go to an urgent care facility, you will probably seen quicker because other patients also have minor conditions.

Hospitals are ready and well-suited for the big stuff. They can perform all tests like MRIs, CAT scans, ultrasounds, and surgery. 

Urgent care facilities know their limits and will recommend the emergency room if they think your condition warrants a visit. If you have severe trauma, you may have wasted time by going to urgent care first.

Another thing you should consider is the cost between the two facilities. Emergency rooms are more expensive. You don’t want to have to find a personal loan to pay for this visit if it is not life-threatening.

Do Your Research

You can also look up your symptoms to determine if you should go to urgent care vs emergency room. Check out these medical websites to see if your symptoms could be serious.


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