IT’S SUNDAY and your ;;-year-old has a
slight fever and says his ear hurts. Should
you take him to the emergency room (ER)
of your local hospital or to the urgent care
center in your neighborhood?
What if your husband is complaining
of chest pains? Should you take him to the
urgent care center or to the hospital ER?
When in doubt, it’s better to be safe
and call ;;; for an ambulance.
In other cases, it’s important to know
the difference between urgent care and
hospital emergency care. Making the right
choice can save you time, money and, more
important, your life or that of a loved one.
“The public confuses urgent care with
emergency care,” says Dr. Debra Perina, an
emergency physician in Charlottesville,
Virginia. “Urgent care is similar to your
physician’s office, where you go for bumps
and bruises and viral illnesses.”
She suggests that, if possible, patients
call their primary care physician’s office
first before choosing between urgent care
and an ER.
“Usually they’ll have a physician on
call who can give advice on where to go,”
An urgent care center is the right
choice for common illnesses and injuries
that need to be treated right away but are
not an emergency, such as sore throats, ear-
aches, flu, sprains and minor cuts that may
require stitches, says Perina. This is where
you take your ;;-year-old whose ear hurts
when your pediatrician’s office is closed.
“Many people may feel they are saving
time or money by going first to urgent care,
but, in instances of serious illness, that loss
of time can be dangerous,” says Dr. Jay
Kaplan, past president of the American
College of Emergency Physicians.
Hospital ERs are prepared for every
kind of adult and childhood medical emergency, including heart attacks, strokes,
head injuries, high fevers and other life-threatening conditions. This is where you
take your husband who has chest pains.
Perina explains that urgent care centers are usually open after normal business
hours, including evenings and weekends.
In most cases, a doctor is on-site, although
care may be provided by a nurse or physician’s assistant. Services differ, depending
on the clinic. Some have the ability to do
blood work and offer X-rays, and some
don’t. It’s best to call ahead to see if your
concern can be handled.
Patients at urgent care clinics are typically treated on a first-come, first-served
basis, says Perina, so you’ll get treated
FOR YOUR HEALTH
The right choice for the problem
Symptoms that can be evaluated
and treated at an urgent care clinic
• Fever without rash.
• Ear pain.
• Painful urination.
• Persistent diarrhea.
• Sore throat.
• Minor trauma such as a common
sprain or shallow cut.
Symptoms that are best evalu-
ated in an emergency room include:
• Persistent chest pain, especially if it
radiates to the arm or jaw or is
accompanied by sweating, vomiting
or shortness of breath.
• Difficulty breathing.
• Any severe pain, particularly in the
abdomen or starting halfway down
• Clumsiness, loss of balance or fainting.
• Sudden difficulty speaking or trouble
• Altered mental status or confusion,
including suicidal thoughts.
• Sudden weakness or paralysis, especially on one side of the face or body.
• Severe heart palpitations.
• Sudden, severe headache.
• Sudden testicular pain and swelling.
• Newborn baby with a fever (a baby
less than 3 months old with a temperature of 100. 4 degrees or higher
needs to be seen right away).
• Falls that cause injury or occur while
taking blood-thinning medications.
• Sudden vision changes, including
blurred or double vision and full or
partial vision loss.
• Broken bones or dislocated joints.
• Deep cuts that require stitches—
especially on the face—or a large
open wound that won’t stop bleeding.
• Head or eye injuries.
• High fevers or fevers with rash.
• Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy.
• Persistent vomiting or diarrhea.
• Seizures without a previous diagnosis
• Serious burns.
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