Urgent Care or ER? Where Should You Go for Care?

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By News Team on March 10, 2020

Sometimes you need medical attention fast, but where should you go for care? Should you go to the emergency department (ED) or urgent care? According to Rob M. Dums, M.D., of VelocityCare Urgent Care by Carilion Clinic, it really depends on the illness or injury.  

“If the injury or illness isn’t life-threatening but needs to be taken care of right away, then urgent care is a great alternative to the ED,” explained Dr. Dums. “But if it is a life-threatening situation, such as severe chest pain or bleeding or someone is non-responsive, you will need to go to the ED immediately.”

Urgent care centers, such as Carilion’s VelocityCare, are open after normal business hours, including evenings and weekends. All VelocityCare locations offer X-ray services and many on-site diagnostic tests.

Emergency departments are open 24 hours, seven days a week, and offer the widest range of services for emergency care, including diagnostic tests and access to specialists. In most situations, if your illness is not life threatening, you'll find that you save time by going to urgent care instead of the ED because the sickest patients are always seen first at the ED.

“Urgent care grew out of a need to try to get people in and seen quicker,” said Dr. Dums. “Even at a primary care office there are so many people waiting to be seen for the treatment of chronic illnesses that those doctors don’t always have time to see a patient for an illness or injury that needs to be seen that day, so that is where urgent care comes in.”

Cost is also a consideration when choosing care. The specialized care at the ED can make it quite expensive, generally resulting in a higher copay.

When to Go to Urgent Care

Treatment for the following conditions is provided at most urgent care centers:

  • Minor cuts and lacerations
  • Minor/small burns
  • Possible broken bones/simple fractures (if facility has X-ray capability)
  • Sprains and strains
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Asthma (mild or moderate wheezing)
  • Rashes
  • Mild allergic reactions
  • Fever

When to Go to the Emergency Department

Treatment for the following conditions is provided in most emergency departments.

  • Major trauma/injuries Injuries following a motor vehicle crash, being struck by a motor vehicle or a fall from a height
  • Serious head injury (with loss of consciousness, changes in normal behavior, multiple episodes of vomiting)
  • Burns with blisters or white areas, or large burns
  • Obvious broken bone in the leg or arm
  • Severe difficulty breathing/respiratory distress
  • Fever in infants eight weeks of age or less
  • Severe pain
  • Seizures

Understanding where to go for the best care can help save you time, money and hopefully make a tough situation a little easier for you or a loved one.