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Urgency Verses Emergency Care

Candice VanderPlaats, RN, CNP
ACMC-Marshall, Urgent Care

Sometimes you need medical attention immediately, but what happens if your regular doctor isn't available? Do you know where to go if you suspect you have a broken arm? Or what if your child has a high fever? It can be a scary experience when a sudden illness or injury strikes. It's also important to know what's an urgent care situation verses an emergency.

Urgent Care Verses the Emergency Room

As a general rule, if it's something your primary care physician might treat (think a simple laceration that needs stitching, a respiratory infection, sprains or strains), a visit to an urgent care is appropriate for non-emergency care:

  • Cuts, bruises and simple fractures
  • Sprains or strains
  • Minor infections
  • Cold, flu, fevers, earaches and sore throats
  • Allergic reactions
  • Mild burns and rashes
  • Respiratory infections
  • Mild asthma

Typically because of the severity of medical conditions seen in Urgent Care, the wait times are shorter. However, Urgent Care shouldn't be used for routine or long-term medical care. Establishing care with a primary care provider who gets to know you is best for this kind of care. For more serious and life-threatening situations, an emergency room and/or call to 911 is the best option.

  • Chest pain and shortness of breath, or signs of a heart attack
  • Signs of stroke such as numbness in the arms or legs
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Poisoning
  • Traumatic Injuries like severe burns, excessive bleeding that doesn't stop, head injury or severe pain
  • Pregnancy complications if your provider is not available

Getting the Care You Need

The next time you're trying to decide if you should seek medical care, remember these tips:

  • Determine the severity of your condition and your options:
    • Does your medical situation need care immediately? A chronic cough can wait until morning, but if you're having difficulty breathing because of the cough, you should seek immediate attention. A low-grade fever of 100.3 or less can wait until regular clinic hours, but an extremely high fever warrants medical care, whether it's during urgent care hours or a trip to the ER.
    • Can medical attention wait until regular clinic hours so you can see your primary care physician? If it can and your primary care physician isn't available, schedule an appointment or walk-in with an urgent care provider.
  • Urgent care centers are often available after regular clinic hours and on weekends. Some healthcare facilities may not refer to after-hours care as urgent care, so consult with your provider if you have questions about their after-hours services.
    If it's after urgent care hours and you aren't sure if medical attention should be put off until morning, call a 24-hour health helpline—many insurers and medical facilities offer one. ACMC offers a 24/7 Nurseline staffed by nurses, who can help address your health concerns and direct you to the right place.

If you're not sure what constitutes an emergency or what emergency costs are covered, ask your insurer or check your insurance plan documents. Knowing what to do in case of a medical urgency or emergency allows you to make an informed decision to get the care you need more quickly.