Knowing When To Visit An Urgent Care Clinic Or Hospital Emergency Department

Since making an unnecessary visit to a hospital emergency room (ER) can be costly to your wallet, it helps to know when an injury or medical condition is serious enough to justify a trip to the nearest ER. While an injury or medical condition may not put your life at risk, you still may need medical treatment that day. Outpatient treatment at an urgent care center is another alternative for receiving immediate care when emergency room care or direct hospitalization isn't necessary.

When should you seek medical care at an urgent care clinic?

In some cases, a medical condition is not considered immediately life-threatening, but it still is serious enough to require medical care within 24 hours. Urgent care clinics are available to treat minor injuries and temporary illnesses that won't clear up on their own. For example, it's the weekend, a holiday, or in the evening after your regular doctor's office hours. You fall and sustain a deep cut that continues to bleed.

Although you aren't hemorrhaging, you can't wait until the next day to be seen by a doctor. Maybe it's a dirty cut that puts you at an increased risk of infection if it isn't treated promptly. That's when a visit to an urgent care clinic may be necessary.

Medical conditions that require urgent care include:

  • Minor bone fractures – the broken ends are only slightly out of place

  • Sprains and strains

  • Minor injuries from falls – abrasions, lacerations, or minor head injuries

  • Cuts that require stitches

  • Persistent fever or flu symptoms that can lead to bronchitis, pneumonia, or sinus and ear infections

  • Repeated vomiting or diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration

  • Urinary tract infections – early symptoms of which include pain and burning with urination

  • Cough or sore throat, which could be a symptom of strep throat requiring antibiotic treatment

  • Difficulty breathing due to an asthma attack

  • Skin rashes or infections such as impetigo and superficial streptococcal infection of the skin

Urgent care centers also generally are set up to provide certain diagnostic services, including basic x-rays and common laboratory tests. You will be referred to a specialist or transported to a hospital emergency room for further treatment if the medical staff treating you at the urgent care center feels that you require more care than they can provide.

When should you seek medical care at a hospital emergency room?

If you suffer a serious injury or other medical problem that could endanger your life, you should go to the nearest emergency room for immediate treatment. In some cases, it may be necessary to dial 9-1-1.

Medical conditions that require emergency care include:

  • Profuse or uncontrollable bleeding

  • Difficulty breathing, especially if accompanied by severe chest pain

  • Signs of heart attack or stroke – symptoms vary among individuals, so it's better to be safe if you think you are having a heart attack or stroke

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Ingestion of a poisonous substance

  • Head, neck, or back injury

  • Open, compound fractures that break the skin

  • Seizures or loss of consciousness

  • Serious burns, or any burn involving the face, neck, finger, toes, eyes, or airway

  • Pregnancy-related problems such as bleeding, increased blood pressure, decreased urine output, and persistent vomiting or nausea that doesn't go away

Contact a local health center, like Snow Creek Medical Center, for more information.