Emergency Department or Urgent Care: Where Should You Go?

Illnesses and injuries often happen suddenly, which could leave you uncertain about where to go for care if your provider’s office is closed. When someone in your family needs immediate medical attention, should you go to an urgent care center or the emergency department? The difference between urgent and emergency can be confusing because both terms imply the need for immediate care. Knowing the best option for your situation ahead of time can help you get the care you need. 

Doctor with mother and daughter

What’s the difference?

Urgent care centers enable patients with urgent, non-life-threatening needs to be seen by a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant quickly and without an appointment. Many urgent care centers are open extended hours and on weekends.

Emergency departments are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for patients who have serious emergency needs that may require a hospital stay or tests that can only be performed at a hospital.

When you should go to an urgent care center

If you have a health problem that you would normally address with your primary care provider, but you can’t wait to get an appointment or the office is closed, you should visit an urgent care center. An urgent care center is the best place for less serious medical problems, including:

  • Minor burns and wounds
  • Sprains and strains
  • Coughs, colds and sore throats
  • Ear infections
  • Allergic reactions
  • Fever or flu-like symptoms
  • Rashes or other skin problems
  • Mild asthma
  • Animal bites
  • Broken bones

When you should go to the emergency department

If you have a serious health problem like a stroke, heart attack, severe bleeding, head wound or other major trauma, go straight to the nearest emergency department. Don’t take a chance with anything that may threaten your life. An emergency department is the best place for serious medical problems, including:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Strong bleeding or head trauma
  • Sudden collapse
  • Sudden loss of vision or blurry vision

The information contained on this blog is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing contained, expressed or implied in this blog, is intended as medical advice nor should it be construed as such. This blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, medical diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician or health care provider. It is not meant to and does not cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects and reliance on the information on this blog is at your own risk. Always talk to your doctor or other qualified health care provider about any concerns or questions you have about your medical care and do not disregard professional medical advice based on the information herein. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.