You never know when you’ll get sick or injured, and you may need medical treatment fast if your condition is more serious. You can get the prompt health care service that you need by going to either an urgent care center or an emergency room. Knowing the difference between the two—and knowing when to go to each—will save you extra time and stress.
Whether Your Condition Is Life-threatening
Life-threatening conditions require immediate attention in a local emergency room. You should definitely go to the emergency room if you are experiencing a medical emergency, such as:
- Chest pain
- Breathing difficulties
- Head trauma
- Severe burns
- A gunshot or stab wound
If your condition doesn’t put your life in immediate danger but you still need to be seen by a doctor quickly, an urgent care center can help you.
Hours of Availability
Emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to treat patients at any time. Most urgent care centers in or near your neighborhood will be open throughout much of the day or into the evening, but typically don’t have 24/7 availability for medical emergencies that arise after business hours.
Primary Care Physician Isn’t Available
If you would normally go to your local primary care physician for a given non-emergency medical condition but your doctor isn’t available, you can typically go to an urgent care center for prompt treatment. Urgent care can be especially convenient if your injury or illness has occurred over a weekend or holiday when your regular doctor’s office is closed.
Emergency room care will usually cost more than the services that you’d receive at an urgent care center. In addition to the emergency room bill, you may need to pay significantly higher costs if your emergency medical situation requires you to stay in the hospital for an extended period. However, health insurance may partially or fully cover emergency room and urgent care visits, which can help offset the costs.
Medical emergencies don’t tend to happen when it’s convenient, and you can’t always wait to see your doctor to have a health problem treated. An emergency room or urgent care center can offer you the speedy treatment that you need even when your primary physician isn’t available.