Injuries and illnesses happen without warning and can drastically impact your life. When they eventually do happen, it is important to know when it is best use either an emergency room (ER) or an urgent care center.

The difference between an urgent care center and an ER is that an urgent care center is an independent facility that specializes in community care. Usually, an urgent care center provides faster and cheaper healthcare services than an ER, since urgent care centers help address minor injuries.

However, patients experiencing critical medical emergencies require ER services that are equipped with life-saving technology. Only an ER can address the most significant medical emergencies; if patients believe they are experiencing a medical emergency then they should go to the ER ASAP.

But how do regular people know when to use either room. How does one know when to use urgent care over the ER? Thankfully, we have provided a brief, but effective, guide to help you best use urgent care and emergency services.

Use urgent care for minor injuries and illnesses

Urgent care centers are the best resource for patients that want to address minor injuries and illnesses. However, it is important to know that “minor” includes a lot of painful conditions that people mistake as a medical emergency.

A list of conditions treatable at an urgent care center include:

  • Bone breaks and sprains
  • Common cold and flu symptoms
  • Headache, fever, and nausea
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Seasonal allergies and respiratory irritation
  • Skin irritations such as rashes and sunburns

As you can see, urgent care treats many injuries and illnesses that may not seem “minor.” The descriptor of minor only implies that the medical situation is not a full-blown emergency.

Go to an emergency room when your condition is life-threatening

Anytime a medical condition is life-threatening or critical, then you need to go to an ER ASAP.

Other types of medical facilities are not equipped to deal with extreme life-or-death medical events that ER staff and technology can handle. A general list of severe medical emergencies include:

  • A wound such as a gunshot that won’t stop bleeding
  • Ingestion of poisonous chemicals  
  • A heart attack, stroke, or extreme cardiovascular condition that stops the heart
  • Asphyxiation or extreme difficulty breathing
  • Sudden loss of consciousness
  • A bone break that punctures the skin
  • Severe 3rd and 4th-degree burns

A medical emergency should never be underestimated no matter the situation. Make sure you go to the nearest ER ASAP.

Use this helpful minor-to-emergency rule of thumb to improve your healthcare decision-making, cut costs, and receive high-quality healthcare for any medical situation.