MPH Blog

Should I Go to ER or Urgent Care?

When sudden illness or injury strikes, it is important to choose the care that is best for your circumstances. People usually go to their primary care physicians when it comes to most illnesses. However, when people need medical care during off-hours, they have two main options: urgent care and the ER.

The Difference Between the ER & Urgent Care

Urgent care facilities serve a specific purpose: they treat people who have illnesses that are not life-threatening but need to be treated immediately. This includes severe colds, back pain, ankle sprains, and conditions of that nature. Non-emergency injuries can be treated by urgent care staff, who provide fast and affordable treatment options.

However, for traumatic injuries or situations that threaten your life or limbs, urgent cares are not properly equipped. Emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and they contain the personnel and equipment that severely ill or injured patients need. While the wait time may be longer, the ER is almost guaranteed to have the specialists and tools you need.

If you are not sure if you need care at the ER, here are some rules of thumb to remember:

  • If you have sudden, severe, and localized pain…
  • If your injury has made it possible to see internal tissue…
  • If your condition threatens your life or could cause a disability…

…then you should go to the ER. Telling the difference between what is urgent and what is an emergency hinges on whether your condition is potentially fatal. A severe backache is urgent because the pain is unfortunate but will likely not kill you. A back fracture could be disabling or fatal, so that is an emergency.

Some pains or conditions should automatically be considered an emergency, including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Sudden and severe headache
  • Sharp and specific abdominal pain

If you have any more questions about emergency care or your health, please contact your primary care physician.

This article contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. The information is not intended to replace the advice or diagnosis of a physician.

If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.