Urgent Care vs. Emergency Care

Some medical problems do not need to be addressed quickly. But others are dangerous and cannot be left to wait. However, even within the category of time-sensitive health problems, there are important divisions.

Most people, when they think of a health problem that needs to be taken care of by a doctor very soon, think of the emergency room. However, there is actually another kind of health service that treats time-sensitive health conditions. That is urgent care. But what are the differences between urgent care and emergency care? When is it right to go to an urgent care center? When is it right to visit an emergency room?

Urgent care and emergency care do have some prominent similarities. Both provide medically necessary care. Both an urgent care facility and an emergency care center will have a full team of doctors and nurses prepared to deal quickly with a wide variety of conditions and symptoms.

The essential difference between urgent and emergency care lies in the severity of the health problems treated. Emergency services are a step up from urgent care. As the name suggests, emergency care treats outright emergencies. A medical emergency is defined as a threat to life or limb that must be treated immediately. Without immediate treatment, further disability or death could occur. Since emergencies can occur at any time, emergency centers are open continually.

Urgent care treats health problems that are at a lower level but are still serious. While there is no immediate severe threat, there is a necessity to treat the issue within 24 hours. If not treated within that time frame, the problem could potentially cause further disability or death. One way to look at it is that urgent care is a middle ground between primary care physicians and emergency care.

Some examples of which problems are treated where will make the difference between urgent care and emergency care clearer. Emergency services are needed for severe problems such as heavy bleeding, compound fractures, difficulty breathing, serious burns, seizures, symptoms of heart attacks, convulsions, deep wounds, symptoms of stroke, severe pain of any sort, and loss of consciousness.

Urgent care is for conditions that are milder but still serious. There is no obvious need to get help right away, but care is needed soon. Among the health problems urgent care centers are suited for are fever, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, eye irritation, minor broken bones, minor wounds, falls, sprains, and rashes.

Understanding the difference between urgent care and emergency care is of practical value. Visiting the facility appropriate to a particular health issue is important. Unfortunately, many people visit emergency rooms for problems that are not actual emergencies.

This common mistake has bad effects in more than one way. People visiting emergency care without cause results in crowded emergency rooms with long lines. Emergency centers have only limited resources. The staff may become overworked and stressed, reducing the quality of treatment for patients.

The net result is that patients may have to wait longer than is ideal to receive treatment at emergency centers. From both the perspective of concern for the wellbeing of others and from personal self-interest, it’s imperative to only go to an emergency room for true emergencies.

Emergency care and urgent care both fulfill vital functions. While health problems requiring immediate treatment are more serious, there is also a need for facilities that handle urgent non-emergencies. Everyone should know the difference between urgent care and emergency care.