Understanding the Difference Between Urgent and Emergency Care

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Urgent care centers have risen to the forefront of the American healthcare system by continuing to bridge the gap between hospital emergency rooms and physician offices in what many feel was a flawed healthcare system.

However, a December 2014 poll conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians revealed that many — 75 percent — of emergency room physicians harbor concerns that patients requiring emergency medical care are seeking treatment at urgent care facilities that may not be properly equipped to treat them. Ninety percent said patients are often triaged to hospital emergency departments due to the nature of their medical condition being more severe than what an urgent care clinic could handle.

So how can patients determine whether they need emergency or urgent care? Here are some things to consider.

Do you have an underlying medical condition?

If you have a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, hepatitis, etc., it may be best to seek treatment at an emergency room. What may seem like a simple injury or illness can become life-threatening depending on the nature of your condition. While pregnancy isn’t considered an illness, it may wise for pregnant women to err on the side of caution and seek emergency treatment.

What is your pain level?

If you are in severe, debilitating pain, it’s best to go directly to the emergency room for treatment. Severe pain indicates an injury or condition that require more advanced treatment and pain management.

How much are you bleeding?

Injuries resulting in substantial blood loss are best treated at an emergency room. Blood loss can result in shock, chills, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea among other symptoms, in which a blood transfusion must be performed immediately.

While urgent care centers have begun providing a wider range of services than in previous years, it’s best to have more serious injuries treated at an emergency room.

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