John and James both have bad injuries, but only one of those injuries is life-threatening: the compound fracture. As such, John needs to be rushed to the emergency room before his exposed wounds become infected. James, who is in a lot of pain, also needs immediate care, which is why he is rushed to an urgent care facility for his sprained wrist and broken fingers.
This example explains the difference between urgent care and emergency care succinctly. Emergency care becomes necessary in the wake of a life-threatening injury such as a compound fracture, which exposes the bone and the surrounding muscles, and potentially severed blood vessels, to infection, and can very well lead to the patient bleeding out.
Broken fingers cause a lot of pain and discomfort, but they are not necessarily life-threatening. This is why what James needs is urgent care; his wounds need immediate attention, but his life is not in danger.
People get the two mixed up a lot, but there is a very clear distinction between urgent care and emergency care, as you can see.
When Do I Need Emergency Care
- Severe chest pains that last longer than two minutes
- Difficulty breathing
- Injuries to the head, neck, and back
- Skull fractures
- Internal bleeding
- Gunshot wounds
- Deep stab wounds
- Seizures, convulsions, and loss of consciousness
- Out of control bleeding
- Severe pain in the abdomen
- Symptoms of stroke (sudden numbness, loss of vision, slurred speech, confusion)
- Suicidal or homicidal thoughts
- Severe pregnancy complications
Still, most people have doubts about the capabilities of urgent care facilities. Questions like “will my insurance cover this?” and “can their physicians handle emergencies like at the E.R.?” and “do they have all the equipment to handle such and such condition?” often trouble the minds of people looking for a reliable Urgent care facility.
The answer to these questions varies depending on the particular center you choose. Some may have all the equipment you’d find at a primary care clinic and emergency room; others may not. It’s all dependent on the specific Urgent care center, which is all the more reason to do your research carefully when choosing an Urgent Care provider.
Why the Emergency Room May Not Always be the Best Option
The E.R. is for Real Emergencies Only
The emergency room should only be an option when someone’s life is in danger. Accidents and conditions that don’t lead to life-threatening symptoms of injuries don’t necessarily require emergency services, although they may need to be attended to as soon as possible.
A good example is a cut that’s deep enough to need stitches but is not bleeding heavily. Normally, you would go to a doctor’s office for that, but most doctors can only be seen by appointment, or you’ll have to wait in line until they can attend to you.
In contrast, an urgent care center can attend to you immediately you walk through their door with a problem. They can also make house calls or offer emergency transit if you request it.
It is Expensive
Sometimes your Insurance Coverage is not enough
When Do I Need Urgent Care
- Deep cuts that need stitches (but are not bleeding heavily)
- Mild to moderate breathing issues, especially those related to asthma
- Moderate back pain
- Severe coughing and sore throat
- Accidents that result in mild to moderate injuries
- Diagnostic services (x-rays, scans, lab tests)
- Diarrhea, vomiting, and extreme dehydration
- Fevers and flu
- Irritation and redness of the eye
- Skin infections
5 Common Myths about Urgent Care
1. Urgent care is expensive
2. Emergency care can replace urgent care
You can’t replace urgent care with emergency care because the chances of being in a dire medical situation are slim compared to those of needing urgent medical care in a situation that’s not life-threatening.
3. You can’t access urgent care without insurance
4. Urgent care centers are under-equipped
5. All urgent care services are only accessible by appointment
Choosing an Urgent Care Facility: 10 Things You Should Know
Other considerations involve your personal preferences, health needs, age, and current medical state.
1. Proximity (Location)
2. Operating Hours
3. Patient Group
4. Admission Policy
5. Available Medical Services
6. Insurance Coverage
8. Medical Affiliations
Nevertheless, some groups of people need urgent medical care as a cost effective way of managing existing conditions. For instance, a person with asthma may need to have access to quick and affordable medical care in the event of an asthma attack. Similarly, geriatric patients, particularly those that are bedridden, may benefit from house calls from urgent care physicians in the event of a medical emergency. The same goes for young children with conditions like heart disease and diabetes.