When you are sick and you are not able to get to your regular doctor, your options are to go to the ER or the urgent care clinic. Knowing which medical care facility to go to will help you ensure that you get the medical care that you need.
The ER Is for Life-Threatening Injuries & Illnesses
A good rule of thumb is to remember that the emergency room is for life-threatening injuries and illnesses.
If you have an illness or injury that you know is threatening your life or is threatening your ability to use a limb, that is when you need to head to the emergency room. The emergency room is for illness and injury that require immediate medical intervention; for example, if you cut your finger on a table saw and it is partially detached, you would head to the ER because you are in danger of losing your limb. If you are suffering from a heart attack or experiencing severe chest or abdominal pain, head to the emergency room.
The ER is for the out-of-the-ordinary situations where your health and well-being are really at risk; that is what emergency rooms were designed for. If you experience a head or eye injury, seizure, serious burn, blurred vision, repeated vomiting, or a severe allergic reaction, those are all conditions that warrant going to the emergency room.
Urgent Care Is for Non-Life-Threatening Injuries & Illnesses
The urgent care clinic is designed for non-life threatening injuries and illness. Urgent care is there to fill in when you can't get in to see your doctor, or when you have an illness that you know what it is but you need assistance with treating it. Urgent care clinics often have more resources than the average doctor's office, but not the same access to life-saving equipment that an emergency room has.
Illnesses that you can self-diagnose but you need medical assistance treating, such as an ear infection, pink eye, bronchitis, a cold or flu, or a UTI are all illnesses that urgent care centers are equipped to assist with. Injuries such as broken bones where the skin is not broken and the bone doesn't need to be surgically reset can be handled by an urgent care clinic; they can take care of sprains and fractures as well.
If you're not sure where you should head for medical care, you can always contact your local urgent care clinic, describe your symptoms, and they'll let you know if you should see them or head to the emergency room. The urgent care center will address your illness or injury, or help you get the right treatment elsewhere. Urgent care clinics work closely with family doctors and emergency rooms to make sure that everyone gets the proper care and attention.