When Should You Use an Urgent Care Clinic?

When you fall sick or hurt yourself, you have two main options – you can head to the emergency room or pay a visit to your local urgent care clinic. In some cases, it will be obvious that you need to go to the emergency room, but there are many urgent conditions that can be adequately treated at an urgent care clinic. Take the time to learn the difference between the two before your next visit.

What Qualifies as an Emergency?

An emergency is often defined as a life-threatening condition that requires immediate attention. Some emergency situations are obvious – like a heart attack or a head injury. In situations like these, it is essential that you receive immediate care and that the professionals providing that care are equipped to handle the problem. Some other examples of conditions that should be seen in the emergency room include:

  • Chest pain or breathing difficulty
  • Compound fractures and breaks
  • Seizure or loss of consciousness
  • Fever in infants under 3 months
  • Heavy or uncontrollable bleeding
  • Moderate to severe burns
  • Serious neck, head, or back injury
  • Signs of heart attack or stroke

If you or a loved one experience any of these conditions – or other conditions that could be life-threatening – choose the emergency room over the urgent care clinic.

When to Use an Urgent Care Clinic

Sometimes an injury or illness can be serious without being life-threatening. In these cases, a visit to the urgent care clinic is usually sufficient. The rule of thumb to follow is that if the condition is not an emergency but still needs to be treated within 24 hours, you should go to urgent care. Some examples of conditions that require urgent care include:

  • Sprains or strains
  • Mild to moderate asthma attack
  • Diagnostic services (x-rays and labs)
  • Mild to moderate bleeding and stitches
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Sore throat or severe cough
  • Broken fingers or toes
  • Urinary tract infections

In some cases, it is more a matter of proximity whether you go to the ER or urgent care. If you have both options available to you, however, think about whether your needs might be met at urgent care as easily (or more easily) than at the ER.