Picture this: It’s a Sunday evening and you’re preparing dinner for the family. While cutting some vegetables, you slice your finger open. Your first thought (after you’ve stopped thinking about the pain) is, I probably need stitches. Then your mind starts to wonder, where can I go that’s still open, close to home and has fast treatment?
Two options patients are commonly faced with in similar situations are freestanding emergency rooms and urgent care facilities. Depending on where you live, both options are usually convenient choices in terms of location and wait time, but freestanding emergency rooms and urgent cares provide different services, greatly impacting your treatment.
Because both of the facilities market themselves as providers of immediate medical attention, patients can sometimes confuse the two. Taking minor conditions to freestanding emergency rooms in search of treatment that could be provided at an urgent care is not uncommon. In other instances, patients may visit an urgent care expecting emergency treatment but are referred to an ER, further delaying treatment.
And in the midst of a stressful — and sometimes painful — situation, how do patients know when to make the distinction between where to go?
Educate yourself on the differences between freestanding emergency rooms and urgent cares to help ensure you make the right choice regarding timely healthcare.
Differences At a Glance:
Freestanding emergency rooms are open 24-hours per day and treat every condition they’re equipped to handle with care and respect. The higher cost of emergency treatment, however, means that some patients with minor injuries or illnesses may want to visit a healthcare facility that does not specialize in emergency care.
Urgent care facilities, in contrast, are meant to handle minor, but pressing, conditions for patients who don’t want to wait to be treated by a primary care doctor, since appointments may not be scheduled for several days. While they may have more flexible hours than your regular doctor, they are not open 24 hours.
Common Symptoms Treated at Freestanding Emergency Rooms and Urgent Cares:
Freestanding Emergency Rooms: 24-Hour Care for Abnormal Symptoms
Below are general overviews of common symptoms and conditions that can be perceived as critical and require emergency treatment. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it’s best to seek immediate medical attention.
- Stiff neck, nausea, fever and splotchy skin
- Tingling arm, chest pain, shortness of breath
- Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- Severe abdominal pain around the bellybutton or lower right side, vomiting and inability to pass gas
- Deep cuts that require stitches – especially on head or face
- Ongoing fever, chills, headache, sweating and vomiting
- Infant with a fever
Urgent Cares: Normal but Severe Symptoms
These are a few symptoms and conditions less critical, but due to escalating severity or extreme discomfort are better suited to an urgent care facility than waiting for days for an appointment with a primary care doctor.
- Sore throat, stuffy nose
- Fever without rash
- Ear pain
- Surface wound or cut
- Fever, chills, headache and sweating
Additional Considerations Impacting Treatment
It’s always best to seek medical attention instead of trying to self-diagnose your own symptoms. Because even normal or minor symptoms can become severe, keep in mind the following when deciding where to go for treatment:
Rapidly accelerating symptoms: Remember that a minor injury or illness can turn serious very quickly, so look for symptoms like a sudden and excruciating headache, isolated pain (particularly in your right side), and/or blood in your urine or stools. These symptoms often indicate a more serious condition and deserve immediate emergency attention. It’s important to note self-diagnosing is not recommended, and if you feel you need medical attention it’s important to know your options.
Time of day: Time of day is another factor to consider when choosing between a freestanding emergency room and an urgent care. Urgent cares are mostly open only during normal business hours, while freestanding emergency rooms usually offer 24-hour care. Depending on the severity of your condition, how quickly you want treatment can be a big factor to weigh when choosing between facilities. Also keep in mind both are good options if you are in need of medical attention after primary physician’s office hours.
Price: Both freestanding emergency rooms and urgent cares take health insurance, but due to the higher cost required to staff and operate emergency medical facilities, your bill for the treatment of a minor condition may be significantly higher than similar treatment you receive somewhere else. This is because of the required equipment and around-the-clock services they provide to patients to give them the highest quality of care. Some patients believe that the cost is well worth the 24-hour service and peace of mind knowing that should their condition have required emergency care; they would have been treated accordingly.
These are just a few of the most common symptoms and illnesses that emergency rooms handle. While some of these conditions are not severe and do not require emergency medical attention, others are potentially life-threatening and should be treated with extreme caution. It’s important to be in tune with your body and know what’s normal for you. That way if your body is experiencing uncommon symptoms, you know it’s time to take action. While it’s necessary to know your symptoms, don’t rely on self-diagnosing. Seek medical attention and understand your options, in the event of an urgent or emergency medical condition so that you can get the right treatment for your health, your time and your wallet.