Emergency Room or Urgent Care? That is the question — it might seem like a simple question, but for many people, it’s a cause of confusion. Making the wrong choice could be the difference between a manageable medical bill and one that haunts your family for years.
If you are injured on the job, there is often a mechanism set up to determine where you are sent for treatment, but what happens if it’s up to you or a loved one to decide?
Workplace injuries continue to happen, but may not be on the rise. In fact, in 2020, there were 2.7 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by industry employers. That number is a 5.7-percent decrease from 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The most common injuries were sprains, strains, and tears, followed by soreness and pain, and cuts, lacerations, and punctures. Causes of injuries were overexertion and bodily reaction, contact with objects and equipment, and falls, slips, and trips.
Emergency Room or Urgent Care?
Back to the original question: where should I go—the emergency room or urgent care? Ask yourself this: Does the injury threaten life or limb? If yes, go to an ER. If it does not, an urgent care could save you time and money.
Urgent care centers offer less costly care for minor illnesses and injuries, as well as extended hours and shorter wait times than ERs. They are usually open beyond normal office hours, so people can see a healthcare professional about any problems that need prompt treatment but are not medical emergencies2. Urgent care centers are often open later than doctors’ offices, but they do not offer 24-hour care.
Visit urgent care when:
- The medical issue does not threaten your life or a body part. That would include minor illnesses like colds, flu, ear infections, etc., or minor injuries, like sprains, cuts, etc.
- Cold or flu-like symptoms don’t respond to treatment.
- You have chest pain and are under age 55, and believe it could be a strained muscle, for example.
- Your injury is (or seems like) a minor bone fracture.
- Diagnostic services, like X-rays, lab tests, etc., or occupational health services.
Emergency rooms (ERs) can handle any life-threatening health concern and are the best option when you require immediate medical attention. They are fully staffed with people who are specifically trained in delivering emergency care 24/7, 365 days a year. Because they are in a hospital setting, the ER team has quick access to expert providers in advanced specialties, like cardiology, neurology, and orthopedics, for example.
Visit the ER if you experience:
- Wheezing, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Displaced or open wound fractures
- Fainting or dizziness
- Sudden numbness or weakness
- Bleeding that cannot be stopped
- Abdominal pain, especially intense localized pain
- Fever with convulsions or any fever in children under 3 months
- Systemic illness (an illness that affects the entire body) with severe pain, sudden onset of severe symptoms, or something that doesn’t work normally.
If you have health insurance, be sure to learn their guidelines on visiting ERs and urgent care centers. They may specify which facilities are in-network, which could also save you money.
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