Urgent Care or Emergency Room – What’s the Difference?

When needing medical attention, sometimes it is not always clear where to go to receive it. There are many factors to consider depending on the situation, such as severity of condition or injury, what time of day the medical attention is needed or type of medical coverage. For example, the best choice might be to go to your primary care physician, an urgent care center or the closest emergency room.

If you have been struggling with allergy symptoms and want to see whether it is something more serious, this would be a case where making an appointment with your health care provider would be the best option. They already have your medical records and health insurance on file, and you would not have additional costs associated with urgent care or emergency room charges. In this case, making an appointment and seeing your health provider in a timely fashion would be your best choice. 

If you are a mother and realize your child is running a fever and has flu-like symptoms, this is a situation where a visit to your local urgent care would be wise. “Urgent care centers are for problems that are time sensitive, so waiting to see your primary care provider is not advised,” says Dr. Scott Fowler, who works at our Utica Park Clinic Urgent Care. “Examples of appropriate urgent care problems are strains/sprains, rashes and minor lacerations, cold/flu symptoms, urinary tract infections and acute gastro-intestinal issues.” If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are able to visit an urgent care, one primary advantage is speed of care. You will not have to make an appointment with your primary care physician, nor will you have to pay the costs associated with visiting an emergency room where you may have to wait, and be seen based on your condition. “There is a huge cost savings over going to the emergency room,” says Dr. Fowler. “Our urgent care is open late and on weekends/holidays. Our wait times are generally very low.”

If one of your family members is experiencing chest pain or other serious problems that require screening and treatment, visiting the closest emergency department is the safest choice. Emergency departments are required by law (EMTALA) to screen and treat any patient, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. They are also open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Unlike urgent cares, emergency departments have a full range of diagnostic services, such as labs and imaging, within the hospital. In addition, emergency departments have specialists – such as surgeons and cardiologists – who are available to treat patients who need that level of specialized care. “If you, or a family member is experiencing conditions such as severe pain, sudden testicular pain or swelling, broken bones or dislocated joints, head or eye injuries, vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, persistent vomiting or diarrhea, large burns or seizures, you must go to an emergency room,” says Dr. Russell Anderson, Hillcrest South Emergency Medical Director. “These conditions or symptoms may not feel life threatening, but they still require the level of care offered at an emergency room.”

 The Utica Park Clinic Urgent Care is located 9245 S. Mingo, just south of 91st & Mingo. For more information or hours, please click here. For more information about our Emergency Department at Hillcrest South, please click here.