skip to main content

When to Use Urgent Care versus ER

By |2018-09-07T05:14:56-05:00June 15th, 2016|Categories: Health A-Z|Tags: |

As an Emergency Department physician at CentraState Medical Center, I treat a wide spectrum of healthcare issues every day. But sometimes patients and families come to the ER when, in fact, they could have received the same level of care at an urgent or immediate care center.

Urgent care centers are still somewhat new on the healthcare spectrum. As a result, not everyone understands when to use them in lieu of going to the ER at your local hospital.

As an example, a male patient in his 60’s was having chest pain and elected to go to an urgent care center for care. He was having a heart attack, which these centers are not equipped to treat. The patient was then transferred by ambulance to our ER, but valuable treatment time had been wasted in the interim. Thankfully, in this case, we were able to successfully stabilize the patient and he eventually made a full recovery, after hospitalization and cardiac rehabilitation.

On the other hand, when a medical issue happens unexpectedly, I understand why the first choice of action is to head to the Emergency Department. But the ER is designed to treat serious or life-threatening medical crises.

To help decipher the difference between these two types of medical care, I’ve outlined what medical circumstances necessitate ER care versus when the patient can be helped at an urgent care center—often at a lower cost:

Urgent care─for immediate but not life-threatening issues

These centers are ideal when you become sick or injured, but your regular doctor or specialist is not available to treat youThey specialize in treating:

  • Fever without rash
  • Flu, sore throats, severe colds, coughs
  • Painful urination
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Sprains, minor cuts that may need stitches

Emergency Department (ER)—for life-preserving, advanced treatment

First and foremost, if you or a loved-one has a life-threatening medical situation—possible heart attack, stroke, loss of consciousness or severe bleeding—call 911. Go to your nearest ER if you are experiencing these medical emergencies, because they require rapid or more complicated treatment:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Sudden weakness on one side of the body difficulty speaking, loss of balance
  • Mental confusion, distress or thoughts of suicide
  • Head, neck or eye injuries
  • Serious burns or electrical shock
  • Sudden, severe headache or vision changes
  • Newborn babies less than three months old with fever or other health issues
  • Broken bones or dislocated joints
  • Uncontrolled bleeding or open wounds
  • High fevers, fevers with rash, seizures
  • Pain or bleeding during pregnancy
  • Suspicion of exposure to a communicable disease or virus

Bring this valuable information before you go

Whether you need the ER or urgent care, you’ll be seeing a doctor who doesn’t know your full medical history. In addition to your insurance card and ID, also bring along:

  • A support person who can speak for you, if necessary, about your condition and any chronic health issues
  • Your prescription and over-the-counter medication list or bottles
  • A list or bottles of daily vitamins and supplements
  • A list of any allergies, including anesthesia

High-quality emergency and urgent care centers

CentraState Medical Center’s Emergency Department (ED) is a state-of-the-art Level II emergency facility offering 44 private rooms equipped to provide immediate critical care for infants, children, adults and seniors. The Star and Barry Tobias Emergency Pediatric Care unit includes a board-certified pediatric emergency physician on duty 24/7 providing gentle treatment in private rooms decorated specifically for children. In addition, the CentraState Health Pavilion at East Windsor in Mercer County has just opened in July, which includes urgent care, primary healthcare at Family Practice of CentraState, physician specialists and a physical therapy center. For more information, call 866-CENTRA7.

emergency doctor in freeholdMark Waciega, MD, board-certified in family medicine and anesthesiology, is an emergency medicine physician at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold. He may be reached by calling 732-294-2667.