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Urgent Care vs. ER Visits – Know Where to Go and When

urgent careThe time to determine whether you should visit the Emergency Room (ER) or an urgent care clinic is not when you are in the middle of a health issue. Each year in the United States, there are nearly one billion colds and up to 20% of Americans get the flu. There are almost 7 million broken bones and 9 million sprained ankles. When you or a loved one is in pain and discomfort, the last thing you want to be doing is figuring out where to go to get help.

Emergency rooms treat patients who are experiencing life-threatening symptoms such as pain in their arm or shoulder which can be a sign of a heart attack, slurring of speech which could indicate a stroke, or trouble breathing which might be a blocked airway. If you suspect an emergency, it is always best to err on the side of caution and call 911 or go to the ER.

Emergency rooms were always the conventional choice when someone couldn’t get to their regular doctor, even when the health issue wasn’t life threatening. Considering a standard trip to the ER is about $1,500 compared to $150 for an urgent walk in clinic, patients are starting to understand the value of using urgent care centers to save money. Most of these facilities now offer extended hours and convenient locations in grocery stores, drug stores, and near residential neighborhoods. However, there is still sometimes confusion about which service to use based on the medical problem.

Urgent care facilities are equipped to handle a multitude of health issues but typically handle acute problems like colds, earaches, headaches, influenza, congestion, std testing, and sore throats. You should feel confident that you will receive quality medical care from walk in doctors if you are suffering from one of these issues.

If the care is for someone who is elderly, a child, or has a compromised immune system, you may want to consider an ER visit instead as seemingly benign illnesses like the flu can be dangerous for these groups. If you are unsure where to go, an urgent care facility can help you determine if they will be able to manage your needs. If they feel you need a higher tier of care, they will recommend an ER visit and arrange an ambulance for you if necessary.

Urgent care clinics are also usually equipped with x-ray machines to diagnose broken bones and look at the lungs and intestines for problems like pneumonia or bowel obstruction. Some health issues they can manage onsite, such as setting a brace or ruling out more serious illnesses with lab tests. Other times, providers will stabilize and refer the patient so they can receive further treatment like surgery or hospital-monitored care if necessary.

As people continue to learn about the benefits of using walk in clinics, the overall health care costs of the country will hopefully decline. One report from 2010 found that two out of ten ER visits could be managed by an urgent care center, which would save over 4 billion dollars per year. Consumers should research urgent care locations and services near them so they will be knowledgeable and well-prepared when they need health care in the future.

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