When a medical emergency occurs, knowing where to turn for care can be a scary and confusing situation. You might not know if you should head to urgent care or go straight to the emergency room. If the situation warrants, you might even have to call 911.

Recognizing the differences between urgent care and emergency care can be confusing because both terms imply there is a medical need that needs to be addressed quickly. However, there are distinct differences between hospital emergency rooms and traditional urgent care centers, like Restore Health Urgent Care in Palm Bay, FL. The difference can include the level and type of health care provider as well as the wait time at each.

Urgent Care Centers Generally Cost Less

Because most urgent care clinics do not have as much overhead as emergency departments, the cost is generally less. Urgent care centers do not have has much equipment or specialist available, therefore their copayment for evaluation is usually cheaper.

Of course, what you’ll pay will depend on your insurance, but urgent care is often much cheaper than an ER visit.  Insurance companies generally prefer you to visit an urgent care clinic instead of emergency rooms when the illness can be treated there.

Urgent care

Urgent care or walk-in clinics can help fill a vital gap when you become sick or injured, and your regular doctor is not available and you can not wait for an appointment. At urgent care centers, you’ll typically find both doctors and physician assistants who usually have training in emergency or family medicine

The difference between urgent and emergency care boils down to what constitutes a medical emergency. Urgent care is a form of medical care that focuses on conditions that are not potentially life- or limb-threatening emergencies but, will require prompt care within 24 hours or less.

When you have a sudden illness or injury that you would feel comfortable having addressed by your primary care doctor, then visiting an urgent care facility would be appropriate rather than an emergency room.

Urgent care centers can fill in for your regular doctor. The stand-alone clinics, which often are open evenings and weekends, can provide the sorts of routine injury treatment and acute medical care that a primary physician would typically perform in their office. That includes treating cold and flu cases, earaches, sprained ankles and minor cuts that require stitches. Urgent care clinics usually lack an operating room but may offer X-rays and simple lab tests.

Urgent care is not emergency care. A study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics found that among patients who had visited the emergency room but were not admitted to the hospital, 57.9 percent went there because their doctor’s office was not open.

Many people use the emergency room because they do not realize that they have different options to choose from. A benefit of urgent care centers is the wait time is drastically reduced. Most urgent care facilities will have a wait time of 30 minutes or less.

Symptoms that can be evaluated and treated at an urgent care clinic include:

  • Fever without a rash
  • Vomiting or persistent diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Dehydration
  • Moderate flu-like symptoms
  • Sprains and strains
  • Small cuts that may require stitches

If your symptoms come on gradually or you already know the diagnosis, due to repeated infections, for instance, you suffer repeated urinary tract infections, or you recognize when your child has come down with an ear infection. It is worth calling your primary care doctor’s office to see if you can get a same-day appointment. Your primary care doctor knows your health history, including what treatments have worked best in the past. Furthermore, if you have other medical conditions that need to be taken into consideration, it is always better to try to see your primary care physician.

However, while urgent care clinics are not a substitute for your primary care physician, they are a great resource when you need care but can’t get in with your doctor.

When to go to the ER

Hospital emergency departments provide medical care at all times, whether it is day or night, most are 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. However, unlike urgent care centers or walk-in clinics, they are equipped and staffed for even the most complex or critical needs. Complex or critical needs will include life- and limb-threatening situations ranging from a heart attack and stroke to traumatic injuries following a car accident.

There are a number of medical conditions that are considered emergencies because they have the potential to require rapid or advanced treatments (such as surgery) that are only available in a hospital setting.

Hospitals are ready for almost anything.  Although equipped to treat minor injuries or sickness, emergency departments are best suited for the bigger stuff. They can generally respond to just about any emergency within the capabilities of that hospital.  Among these offerings are radiology labs, ultrasounds, CAT scans, and MRIs, operating rooms and access to doctors of varying expertise across medical disciplines. Beds are also available if a patient needs to stay over.

Symptoms that are best evaluated in an emergency room include:

  • Chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Weakness/numbness on one side
  • Slurred speech
  • Fainting/change in mental state
  • Serious burns
  • Head or eye injury
  • Concussion/confusion
  • Broken bones and dislocated joints
  • Fever with a rash
  • Seizures
  • Severe cuts that may require stitches
  • Facial lacerations
  • Severe cold or flu symptoms
  • Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy

Always trust your gut.  If your instinct or intuition tells you it is serious, don’t wait, go to the nearest emergency room.

Emergency, Call 9-1-1

Even though it might be clear that you or your loved one needs emergency care, you may be unsure whether to drive yourself to an emergency room or call 911.

Unfortunately, many people are extremely nervous about call 911. However, it is better to be safe than sorry.  You should never drive yourself if you are having severe chest pains or severe bleeding. If you feel like you might faint or vision is impaired then you should not drive yourself.  When in doubt, call 911 — what matters most is that you get to the emergency room quickly and safely.

For certain medical emergencies such as a heart attack or stroke, calling 911 for an ambulance is always the right decision. This is because paramedics often can begin delivering life-saving treatment on the way to the hospital.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to your health, it is always best to consult a professional. When visiting either the emergency room or urgent care center you are bound to speak with physician assistances to assess the level of urgency.

Don’t put off going to urgent care or the emergency room because you’re worried about the costs. While health care can be astronomically expensive in this country, so that concern is absolutely valid. But there are ways to negotiate high medical bills and ways to set up payment plans in order to them off. If you’re worried about your health—and especially if you think your life depends on it—seek the care.

The team at Restore Health Urgent Care in Palm Bay, FL, which is located near Melbourne Florida, wants to be your trusted source for your minor medical emergencies.