I am not a medical professional, but I have one of the biggest medical files you’ll ever see. I would list all my dumb injuries, but I don’t feel like typing them out for the next five hours. Some highlights include a cracked sternum, two ACL surgeries, stitches on my forehead, and almost every major bone in my body broken at some point. Why does any of that matter? As I said, I’m no medical professional, but I do know the difference between urgent care and the ER. I just learned the hard, painful way. 

Difference between Urgent Care & the ER

Urgent Care 

Urgent care is more like a doctor’s office than an emergency room. They might have more equipment than your family doctor, but the medical urgency is the same. I usually go to urgent care if I can’t get an appointment with my doctor and feel like absolute crap. You go when you need urgent care, not emergency care. Most urgent care facilities have typical business hours (9:00 am to 5:00 pm), but unlike your doctor, they are usually open on the weekends. And if you need a sports physical done, some urgent care facilities will do them as a walk-in instead of needing to make an appointment. These quick physical trips saved me more than once in high school. 

You should visit an urgent care center if you experience any of the following:

  • Minor fractures
  • Back pain
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea
  • Headaches
  • Need blood work
  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Fever
  • Cold or flu symptoms
  • Ear pain/infection
  • Need vaccinations
  • Cough or sore throat
  • Stitches
  • Asthma
  • Rashes
  • Minor burns
  • Allergies
  • UTI

Why go to urgent care instead of the emergency room? The emergency room treats all of these things, too, so what’s the point? Urgent care wait times are shorter most of the time than emergency room wait times, even as a walk-in. Walk-ins are a thing. You don’t need to call ahead and make an appointment like you do a doctor. Urgent care centers also take insurance. You only need to find the closest urgent care center that is in-network for your provider. 

Emergency Rooms

Emergency rooms are meant for emergencies. That makes sense, right? If you are bleeding out or have a bone sticking out of your body, then maybe it’s time to rush to the ER. An emergency room will handle all ailments and illnesses, and needs an urgent care center can, but it will cost more money and have longer wait times. The upside is that if something is wrong, you will already be in the hospital, where they are better equipped to handle anything that might bring you down. Another pro is that emergency rooms are open 24/7. So if you slip and fall in the bathtub and crack your head open at 2 am (definitely not speaking from experience or anything), you at least have a place to go. 

My biggest advice is to avoid ambulances as much as possible since they can instantly rack up your medical bill by a couple of thousand. Although if you are alone and can’t drive, then you might be out of luck. Also, the ER is the better option if you have a medical issue with a baby or toddler. They are better equipped to handle those cases.  

You should visit an emergency room if you experience any of the following:  

  • Blindness/Loss of vision
  • Head trauma/concussion protocol
  • Severe bleeding
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing/severe asthma
  • Compound fracture (bone sticking through your skin
  • Paralysis
  • Pneumonia
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Severe abdominal pain

To Go Or Not To Go

I got injured so much as a kid that if I wasn’t bleeding out or turning blue, my mom didn’t care. (That makes it sound like she was neglectful, which she wasn’t.) The first time I tore my ACL was in high school, but my mom thought I was fine since I wasn’t in pain after the initial injury. It took three months of my knee randomly giving out on me for her to finally take me to the doctor. I felt vindicated when he told me I was injured. Maybe you super glue your deep cuts instead of going to get stitches, or you wrap your broken fingers instead of wasting time and money for someone else to do it. Whatever the case, it’s up to you to seek professional medical help. At least now you know which medical center is right for you. 

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