ER vs Urgent Care: Which is right for you?

It's 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, your doctor's office is closed, and you need medical care. Where do you go "“ an emergency department or an urgent care center? The answer is: It depends. 

The first step should be to contact your primary care physician, who may advise you to come to the office, go to an urgent care center or visit the emergency department, depending on the symptoms you are experiencing. If your physician's office is not open, an urgent care center or emergency department can provide the care you need. Less serious symptoms can usually be treated effectively at an urgent care center. For more serious symptoms, or sudden severe injuries or illnesses, a hospital emergency department will likely be the best option, providing the necessary level of care.

Urgent Care

Urgent care centers are usually used to treat patients with medical conditions that require immediate attention, but are not serious enough to warrant a visit to an emergency room. Conditions that may be effectively treated at urgent care centers include:

  • Sprains and strains
  • Infections, including urinary tract or respiratory infections
  • Minor cuts with controlled bleeding
  • Colds, coughs and sore throat
  • Flu symptoms and/or fever
  • Skin rashes and minor injuries

Most urgent care centers have extended hours, including evenings and weekends, and offer walk-in appointments.

Emergency Care

An emergency is a serious symptom or medical condition that is caused by an illness or injury. Most emergency departments are open 24/7, as patients may arrive any time of the day or night. In deciding whether to seek treatment at an emergency department, consider the seriousness of the condition and symptoms. For serious injuries or medical conditions, you should go to an emergency room. The conditions that need care in an emergency department include, but are not limited to:

  • Symptoms of a stroke, including sudden numbness in an extremity
  • Symptoms of a heart attack, including chest pain and/or shortness of breath
  • Seizures or loss of consciousness
  • Severe injuries, such as fractures or head trauma
  • Vomiting or coughing up blood
  • Bleeding that won't stop or deep cuts
  • Severe burns
  • Severe abdominal pain

When in doubt, patients who feel their symptoms require immediate medical attention may choose to go to a hospital emergency department, where medical professionals can determine which level of care is required. In addition to treating serious injuries or illness, McLaren Bay Region cares for patients with less serious symptoms, typically treated in the emergency department's fast track area, which is open from 11am to 11pm, seven days a week.

Other factors that may be worth considering when choosing an urgent care or an emergency department include insurance guidelines and co-pays.