Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room: Know Where to Go

Girl high fiving a nurse

It’s a Saturday afternoon and you’re daughter twists her ankle while playing soccer. You can tell she’s in pain, but you’re not sure if it requires a visit to a doctor or where you should go to see one. Your primary care doctor’s office isn’t open on the weekends, so your other options are either an urgent care clinic or the emergency room (ER). 

Maybe this situation has not exactly happened, but you’ve probably faced a similar dilemma about where to go when you experience a health problem. There are a few factors to consider when deciding where to go for care, whether it’s a doctor’s office, walk-in clinic, urgent care, or the ER. Before you’re in a situation where you need to make this decision, it’s important to know your choices for care.

Urgent Care


An urgent care center is best if you need care more quickly than you can get an appointment at your doctor’s office. They are also used for medical services, such as lab work and vaccinations. Patients are seen on a first-come-first-serve basis rather than the severity of the condition. Symptoms that are best evaluated in an urgent care center include:
  • minor injuries that don’t require emergency treatment
  • common or minor infections like strep throat, cold and flu, allergies and asthma, earaches and headaches
  • minor cuts and rashes

Emergency Room 


The emergency room (ER) is best when you need immediate treatment for a serious or life-threatening issue. Call 911 right away if it’s an emergency.

You should go to an ER if you, or someone you know, are experiencing a life-threatening situation, such as:
  • stroke
  • chest pain
  • head trauma
  • severe bleeding
  • loss of vision
  • difficulty breathing
Cost
2/5
Wait time
3/5
Severity
3/5
Cost
4/5
Wait time
4/5
Severity
5/5
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