Healthy Living

Should I Go to Urgent Care or the Emergency Room?

Jan 19 2024

When a health issue arises for you or a family member, this is usually one of the first questions to pop into your head: Should I go to urgent care or the emergency room?

You don’t always need to head to the hospital emergency room for treatment that can be handled at an urgent care center. But other times, you’ll need to head straight to the ER or call 911. 

Understanding what level of care you need for which medical conditions can save you time, money and frustration regarding your and your loved ones’ health.

First, don’t forget that your primary care provider can be an option. 

If you have a non-emergency situation that does needs attention fairly quickly, your primary care provider should be your first call. For example, if you’ve had a cough for a couple weeks, call in to schedule an appointment or start an e-visit with them.

However, there may be a time when you want to see a medical professional for a non-emergency illness or injury, but your primary care doctor is closed for the day, it’s the weekend or your provider is out of the office.

If that’s the case, you may want to seek out an urgent care clinic.

This is because an urgent care clinic is a facility that is usually part of a hospital system but operates like its own separate office. Thus, urgent care is ideal if you have a non-life-threatening medical condition but one that needs fast, more immediate treatment. This is because they are typically open seven days a week.

Plus, these clinics or walk-in clinics can help you avoid the long wait times that emergency departments are known for.

You can walk into an urgent care clinic to have the following (and more) treated:

  • Animal bites
  • Asthma attacks
  • Dehydration
  • Ear infections
  • Flu symptoms
  • Joint and back pain
  • Migraine headaches
  • Muscle sprains and strains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Ongoing diarrhea
  • Pink eye
  • Small cuts that may require stitches
  • Sprains or strains
  • Strep throat
  • Urinary tract infections

Additionally, going to an urgent care clinic helps save space in the emergency room for those individuals facing more critical conditions.

Hospital emergency departments handle severe and life-threatening conditions and situations that need immediate treatment.

Therefore, minor illnesses and injuries don’t warrant a visit to the ER. However, there are a few instances in which you still might question where you should go for treatment.

Where do I go for a broken bone?

That depends on the broken bone. A broken bone in your hand, wrist, ankle or foot is usually treatable at an urgent care clinic. Major broken bones in your body or on your face should be seen at the ER, especially if there is exposed bone.

As far as broken facial bones go, you may need access to a specialist in emergency care who can quickly treat the problem. An urgent care clinic usually doesn’t have immediate access to specialists.

Where do I go for burns?

Burns can be tricky because you may not know how deep they go. They are described in terms of degrees and here’s a guide to them:

  • First-degree burn: Most sunburns are first-degree burns. You can usually handle this at home.
  • Second-degree burn: Contact with boiling water on a hand is considered a second-degree burn because it affects the dermal layer of your skin. It can be treated at home or at an urgent care center.
  • Third- and fourth-degree burns: Serious burns, such as electrical burns, go much deeper into layers of skin and tissue. They are very painful and need advanced treatment in an emergency room.

Other symptoms that you should go to the emergency room for include:

  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Severe bleeding
  • Any head or eye injuries
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Severe dizziness
  • Weakness or numbness on one side

So, next time you ask yourself, “Should I go to urgent care or the emergency room?” we hope this information helps you get the medical care you need.

Learn about the emergency and urgent care services we provide at Mercy Health.

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1 Comment

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Levi Armstrong

I find it helpful when you said that I should go to an urgent care clinic if I have a non-life-threatening medical condition since it's more affordable. Thanks!
October 09th, 2020 | 10:20am

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