Emergency Room vs. Urgent care: Where should I go?

Determine if an ER or Urgent Care is the right choice for you in a sudden medical situation.

When you’re suddenly feeling sick or have an unexpected injury, you have many options for “immediate” care – the emergency room, an urgent care facility, or a free-standing clinic. Do not let the challenge of choosing what facility to go to stall your time in getting care.

When faced with an emergency situation, time is critical. The answer to where to go is not always clear, but knowing the difference between the facilities and what they offer will make it easier to decide what option is right for you. 

Know The Difference Between and ER and Urgent Care 

Emergency medical facilities are built on the value of quickly addressing medical needs. In an emergency, immediate care may be the difference between life and death or determining the path to recovery. An emergency room is a medical facility that operates on unscheduled patients that require immediate medical attention – ranging from minor to major injuries and illnesses. The facilities are typically open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In contrast, urgent care or outpatient medical clinics are an alternative medical service option to the emergency room or primary care facility that treats minor healthcare issues. Clinics are usually open during a set time frame, with no overnight stays, allowing patients to walk-in or schedule their visit. 

Two factors that are great for determining what facility to choose when faced with an emergency are:  

  • If the illness or injury is life-threatening, go to an emergency room. 
  • If the injury or illness is something you would see your primary care doctor for and cannot get an appointment, go to an urgent care clinic. 

However, distinct differences differentiate all medical facilities with a slight grey area that leads to uncertainty around where to go for medical attention. 

When to go to Emergency Room 

Sometimes it can be challenging to deem what is an actual “emergency” and what is not. Emergency rooms are for immediate care of sudden severe illness or injury, like a heart attack or a high fever that lasts more than 24 hours. Certain medical conditions and injuries need immediate care – like an emergency surgery – where only an emergency room is equipped to handle the critical situation, 24/7. 

You should visit an emergency room if you experience the following: 

  • Chest pain accompanied by difficulty breathing 
  • Sudden numbness or limp feeling in extremities 
  • Slurred speech 
  • Broken bone 
  • Severe burns 
  • Fainting or change in mental state 
  • Concussion and confusion 
  • Severe cuts 
  • Vaginal bleeding while pregnant 
  • Seizures 

To see a complete comprehensive list of most injuries and illnesses deemed fit for the emergency room, click here. Always trust your gut feeling. If you believe something is severe enough to go to an emergency room, go. 

When to go to Urgent Care 

With the hustle and bustle of today’s society, it may be hard to get in to see your primary care provider due to scheduling conflicts or hours of operation. It is important to note that an urgent care facility is not a substitute but a great alternative to a primary care doctor. The facilities are there for those more minor instances that still need immediate care, like a sore throat impacting daily life. It is important to note that urgent care clinics are not built to service “true emergencies.” 

You should visit an urgent care clinic if you experience the following: 

  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dehydration 
  • Muscle Sprains and strains 
  • Small cuts that may need stitches 
  • Moderate flu-like symptoms 

To see a complete comprehensive list of injuries and illnesses deemed fit for urgent care, click here.

The ER & Hospital Experience

Recently, there has been an influx of facilities operating on a hybrid ER level of care with the comfort and relaxed feel of an urgent care. Patients may go here for everything they can expect to receive at a traditional emergency room – advanced technology and expert-level physicians – but better wait times, accessibility, and a higher level of convenience. 

It is important to note that the patient may be transferred to a hospital-based ER if an illness or injury is deemed too severe for the facility. 

Click here to see Topeka ER & Hospital versus traditional ER versus an Urgent Care. 

Topeka ER & Hospital provides top-tier medical services – regardless of illness or injury – and advanced technology like a traditional hospital but goes beyond the values of the typical. Experience comfort, convenience, and superior care with little to no wait times, no appointments needed, and expert board-certified physicians. For all your emergency needs, visit your go-to neighborhood ER. 

REMEMBER: If you or a loved one is experiencing a medical emergency that needs immediate attention, call 9-1-1. 

Disclaimer: As a service to our readers, Topeka ER & Hospital and Nutex Health state no content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.