Home > HEALTH & FITNESS, SOCIOLOGY > E.R. vs Urgent Care

E.R. vs Urgent Care

Image Credit: http://www.brentviewmedical.com

Having worked in a hospital setting especially in the the E.R. I can tell you that many people use the E.R. for purposes that could have been handled faster and with the same care in  Urgent Care (if your primary care physician is not available for consult). The problem is that many people do not always know when and illness or injury should be treated at the E.R. or when the Urgent Care will be best. It is important for one to know this because there are many times when and E.R. gets backed up and people may not get the level of attention needed in a timely manner. Trust me I have seen this happen! You should  also be aware that the E.R.  is not based on a first come first serve basis, the way people are assessed is by level of severeness, usually in 3 categories:

  • Immediately life threatening
  • Urgent, but not immediately life threatening
  • Less urgent

This system is necessary so that someone with a life-threatening condition is not kept waiting because they arrive  after someone with a more routine problem. Meaning if you go in with a sprained ankle and right after comes a patient with chest pain and shortness of breath, that patient will go in before you do as it is a life threatening condition . Remember it is always a good idea to be informed!

Below are some guidelines to consider before deciding where to go. When unsure, it is best to go to the emergency department. If the situation is severe or life-threatening  call 911 immediately.

Common circumstances for the emergency department:

• Condition requires immediate care and is considered severe

• The onset of the condition is abrupt, moderate or severe

• The diagnosis is unknown

• The patient is a newborn, an infant or elderly

• The patient has underlying health issues such as diabetes or heart disease

• The patient needs assistance getting to the hospital

Common medical conditions for the emergency department:

• Chest pain

• Shortness of breath

• Altered mental status

• Fever in infant or elderly

• Headache that comes on abruptly or is classified as moderate or severe

• Lacerations greater than 1 inch; any facial laceration; or a laceration with contamination

• Trauma above the chest

• Possible concussion or head injury

• Abdominal pain

• Fever with rash

• Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy

• Evaluation for motorcycle or motor vehicle accident

• Broken bone at the wrist, hand, ankle or foot where the skin has been disturbed; broken bones anywhere else on the body; bones that clearly need to be reset

• Dislocation of any joint

Common circumstances for urgent care:

• Condition requires immediate care but not considered severe or life-threatening

• The onset of the condition is gradual and mild

• The diagnosis is known (for example, a urinary tract infection)

• The patient is otherwise healthy with no underlying medical conditions

• The patient is not an infant or elderly

• The patient can drive himself or herself

Common medical conditions for urgent care:

• Non-facial laceration less than about an inch

• Common sprain

• Cough with runny nose

• Sore throat

• Urinary tract infection

• Mild asthma

• Rash without fever

• Medication refills

• Laboratory checks

• High blood pressure management

• Follow up for an emergency department visit

• Broken bone at the wrist, hand, ankle or foot (with intact skin and no obvious need to reset bone)

Before an urgent-care need arises, patients should determine:

• The location of the nearest facility accepted by the patient’s insurance

• The facility’s hours of operation. Not all such centers are open 24 hours

• The types of physicians who staff the center (specialties may include emergency, internal or family medicine)



***Source of recommendations: Shawn Evans, M.D., an emergency medicine specialist with Scripps Health

(curtesy of  http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/)

  1. Queta Lares
    November 29, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Fabiola, thank you for this valuable Information, you’ll be amazed how many people do not have this common sense, in summary, it’s very simple ER means emergency room, EMERGENCY!!

  2. November 30, 2010 at 6:08 am

    I am so glad you found the post informative!Like you, I was and am amazed that people aren’t aware of the differences between the E.R and Urgent Care. Working in the E.R. I found that many didn’t even know that Urgent Care was an option or that there is even an Urgent Care department! That to me is UNBELIEVABLE!

    Anyhow, thank you for your constant feedback! We truly appreciate it!


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