You twist your ankle and it quickly swells. You develop intense vomiting or abdominal pain. Or your little one spikes a fever and can’t stop coughing.
When illness or injury happens suddenly, you may be unsure where to go for care, especially if the symptoms seem severe.
Both “emergency” and “urgent” indicate there is a medical need that needs to be addressed quickly, which can be confusing. To get the right care, it’s important to understand the differences between hospital emergency rooms and urgent care centers.
Hospital emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day to treat life- or limb-threatening conditions like heart attack, stroke or traumatic injuries. They are staffed and equipped to provide the most complex, critical care for patients of all ages.
Conditions that should be treated at in emergency room include:
- Acute psychiatric emergencies
- Chest pain or pressure
- Complex lacerations
- Compound fracture (bone that protrudes through the skin)
- Conditions requiring procedural sedation
- Concern for meningitis
- Dislocated joints
- Head injuries
- Fainting/change in mental status
- Serious burns
- Severe abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Slurred speech
- Sudden, severe headache, or paralysis or weakness
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
For conditions that are not life- or limb-threatening, urgent care is often a better use of a patient’s time and resources. Urgent care centers fill the gap when patients need to be seen that day but cannot get an appointment with their physician. Urgent care centers usually have shorter wait times than and cost far less than an emergency room visit.
Conditions treated at an urgent care center include:
- Back or muscle pain
- Minor cuts and minor burns
- Sexually transmitted infection
- Skin conditions
- Sprains or joint pain
- Upper respiratory infection
- Urinary tract infections
Urgent care is not a substitute for primary care. It is important to have a primary care physician to manage your routine care, health screenings and chronic health conditions. When possible, it’s best to seek care from your primary care physician who knows you and your medical history.
Check wait times at Lexington Medical Center’s five urgent care locations.
Find a primary care physician that’s right for you.