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Emergency Room or ER - What's right for you today?

By: David Stern, MD ArticleGeek.com

The Urgent Care Association of America estimates that there are around 13,000 to 16,000 urgent care centers in the USA. Many illnesses and injuries that require timely treatment but are not true emergencies are ideally suited for evaluation in an urgent care center. If your personal physician is not available, a visit to an urgent care center may provide convenient access to quality healthcare. In communities that do not yet have an urgent care center, the local hospital emergency department may be overrun with inappropriate visits--visits that involve relatively minor problems that may be better suited to the urgent care center. Urgent care centers are often a better choice for on-demand access to healthcare, because urgent care centers generally:

  • have shorter wait times,
  • have convenient access in the community,
  • focus on caring for conditions of mild to moderate acuity (not the care of life-threatening emergencies), and
  • are equipped to care for more serious conditions than the average primary care physician (offering x-rays, suturing, and administration of intravenous fluids). 

On the other hand, some illnesses or injuries are not appropriate for treatment in an urgent care centers and should be evaluated and treated in a hospital emergency department. Examples of these types of emergency conditions include:

  • a fifty year old woman with intermittent chest pain for the past twenty-four hours (may be a heart attack),
  • a ten year old girl with a fever of 104° who is not fully conscious and has a rash over his whole body (may be meningitis),
  • a twenty year old man with severe neck pain after an accident on the highway (may be a fractured neck),
  • an seventy year old man who fell down a flight of stair and has not fully recovered from the concussion (may be a brain hemorrhage), and
  • a chemotherapy patient with a high fever (may be a severe life-threatening infection).

Most non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries, however, can be evaluated and treated in an urgent care centers. Here are some examples of conditions that often present appropriately to urgent care centers:

  • a five year old boy with diarrhea for two days,
  • a forty year old man with rib pain after slipping in an icy parking lot,
  • a twenty year old man with burning on urination,
  • a four year old girl who tripped and has a sore ankle,
  • and many other mild to moderate illnesses or injuries.

In general, if you think you might be suffering from an emergency condition, go to a hospital emergency department. If you are not sure, you might call your doctor or your local urgent care center to help you decide whether an urgent care center or a hospital emergency department is more appropriate.

To find an urgent care center in your community, you may try the following ideas:

  • Search the phrase "urgent care mycity"; (for example, "urgent care chicago") on a major search engine (Google, Yahoo or MSN).
  • Go the Practice Velocity urgent care directory on the Practice Velocity webpage (www.practicevelocity.com)
  • Look in your health insurance provider directory for urgent care centers that participate in your health plan.

Urgent care centers generally offer timely, convenient healthcare access. When you need to see a physician today (and you can not get in to see your personal physician) for an illness or injury that is not a true emergency, an urgent care center may be an excellent option instead of the emergency department.

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