There used to be two places to go to for medical care: your family doctor or the hospital emergency room. Today, there are three main options for health care: a provider’s office, an urgent care clinic or a hospital’s emergency department.
You don’t always need to head to the emergency room for treatment that can be handled at an urgent care clinic or by your primary care provider. Other times you’ll need to head straight to the ER.
Understanding what conditions can be treated by your primary care provider, at an urgent care clinic or in the ER can save you time, money and frustration when it comes to your health.
When to choose your primary care provider
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 Evisit with them.
There may be a time you want to see a medical professional for a non-emergency situation, but your primary care provider is either closed for the day or perhaps out of town. If that is the case, you have two options:
- You may have a virtual visit benefit under your insurance, which allows you to see a primary care provider via a video chat.
- The second choice is to seek out an urgent care clinic.
When to choose urgent care
An urgent care clinic is a facility that is usually part of a hospital but operates like its own separate office. Going to an urgent care clinic costs less than going to the emergency room at a hospital. An urgent care center is ideal if you have a non-life-threatening medical condition that needs fast treatment.
You can walk into an urgent care clinic to have the following (and more) treated:
- Animal bites
- Asthma attacks
- Ear infections
- Flu symptoms
- Joint and back pain
- Migraine headaches
- Muscle sprains and strains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Ongoing diarrhea
- Second-degree burns
- Strep throat
- Urinary tract infections
When to choose a hospital’s emergency department
A hospital’s emergency department handles severe and life-threatening situations that need immediate treatment. Heading to an emergency room for a minor ailment is often a waste of time and money. The wait may be long, and the costs are much higher than contacting a primary care provider. However, there are a few instances in which you 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. As far as broken facial bones go, you may have access to a specialist at the emergency department 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 be sure how deep they go. They are described in terms of degrees. Here’s a guide:
- 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
Where do I go if I feel like I’m having a heart attack or stroke? Even if it turns out to be gas or acid reflux, you should immediately head to the emergency room if you feel like you’re having a heart attack or stroke. It’s better to be safe than sorry with these two life-threatening conditions. Call 911 if you have any of these symptoms:
- Heart attack: Chest discomfort and pain, shortness of breath, nausea and cold sweats
- Stroke: Speech difficulty, vision problems, drooping face, arm weakness and balance issues
Find a Mercy Health primary care provider near you today.