Urgent Care or Emergency Department

Urgent Care or Emergency Department, it can be confusing!

Many people are unaware of the differences between the emergency department and an urgent care center, and when you shouldgo to one over the other. The biggest difference is cost. An urgent care center is going to be much less expensive than the emergency department because the emergency department is set up for life threatening injuries or illnesses.

Urgent Care is designed to treat minor and non-life threatening injures and to take some of the pressure off of the emergency department. Due to this, wait times are often shorter at an urgent care facility as well. Most urgent care centers are staffed by one doctor and a few mid-level providers, such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, as well as nurses. An urgent care will also be equipped with some diagnostic equipment, such as an x-ray. Reasons to go to an urgent care are

  • Stitches
  • Broken Bonesurgent emergency cartoon
  • Burns
  • Cold or Flu
  • Common Sprain
  • Sore Throat or Fever

People can often substitute a trip to an urgent care for  a visit to a primary care physician, but this is strongly discouraged. The cost of a visit to the urgent care is much more than the cost of a visit to a doctor’s office. Some reasons to go to urgent care:

Emergency Department in a hospital, focuses on life-threatening medical issues. In other words, the emergency department is reserved for true emergencies. The emergency department is also staffed by more highly trained professionals and specialist. Technology is generally far more advanced and more readily available.  Some reasons to go to the emergency department:

  • Signs of a heart attack, such as discomfort in chest or upper body, shortness of breath, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, and lightheadedness
  • Signs of a stroke, such as facial drooping, numbness or weakness in the arm, leg, or face, speech difficulty, blurred vision, dizziness or loss of balance, sudden severe headache with no known cause
  • Poisoning
  • Severe, life threatening wounds or amputations
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings

Here is a helpful infographic to help you remember when to go to the urgent care and when to go the emergency department

UC vs ED infographic