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Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room: When to Use Each Type of Care

When your elderly loved one is ill or has taken a tumble, but insists they’re fine, many caregivers struggle with the decision whether to take them to an urgent care facility or head straight for the emergency room.

And with rising healthcare costs, emergency rooms are becoming more crowded. This not only creates long waits and makes it difficult for people who really need the care to get it, it also can expose your loved one to flu, pneumonia, or other illnesses that can cause further complications.

If you’ve ever been in the spot of deciding between urgent care and an emergency room, you know that it can be a very fine line. You don’t think it’s a true emergency and you want to keep treatment costs low, but there’s always the chance that something more could be going on.

Here’s some guidance on when you should consider heading for the emergency room, and when an urgent care facility is just fine:

When to Go to the Emergency Room

Emergency rooms are for acute care, meaning your loved one is suffering from an injury or illness that needs prompt attention and may need the diagnostic equipment or other resources found at a hospital. Broken bones, chest pain, shortness of breath, and head injuries all require fast, skilled medical attention from a hospital.

Here are some things that necessitate a trip to the emergency room:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weakness or numbness on one side
  • Slurred speech
  • Fainting
  • Changes in mental state
  • Serious burns
  • Head or eye injury
  • Concussion or confusion
  • Broken bones
  • Dislocated joints
  • Fever with a rash
  • Seizures
  • Severe cuts that may require stitches
  • Facial lacerations
  • Severe cold or flu symptoms

If your loved one is suffering from something not on this list, but your gut is telling you that the emergency room is the right choice, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

When to Go to Urgent Care

While the word “urgent” is in urgent care, it’s not a place to take potential emergency conditions. Instead, urgent care is for those things that you likely would otherwise see your doctor for but you want to get in faster than scheduling an appointment tomorrow or next week.

Many urgent care facilities do not have imaging technology such as X-rays and ultrasound machines, so if you suspect your loved one may need this service, it’s best to go to the emergency room even if their condition doesn’t seem to warrant the trip.

If your loved one has the following conditions, a trip to urgent care is probably a safe bet:

  • Fever without a rash
  • Vomiting or persistent diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Wheezing
  • Dehydration
  • Moderate flu-like symptoms
  • Sprains and strains
  • Small cuts that may require stitches
  • Illnesses you’d normally see your primary doctor for but you feel you need treatment now

For symptoms that come on gradually, such as a persistent cough and fever over the course of a few days, or you already know the likely cause, urgent care can be a great resource to get a diagnosis and treatment plan quickly. However, it may be more affordable – and even more convenient – to call your doctor and see if you can get a same-day appointment instead of going to urgent care.

When to Call 911

Sometimes, the line isn’t necessarily between whether to go to the emergency room or an urgent care facility, and instead you’re left wondering whether you need to call 911.

You should call 911 if you or your loved one has:

  • Severe chest pains
  • Severe bleeding
  • Had a fall and moving may do more damage
  • Impaired vision
  • Possible heart attack
  • Possible stroke

In these cases, paramedics can deliver immediate, life-saving treatment on the way to the hospital that otherwise wouldn’t be received until arrival. As with choosing the emergency room over urgent care, if your instincts are telling you to call 911, it’s better to call and it turns out to be a less severe situation than to not call and risk your loved one’s health further.

Experienced Senior Companion Care in Central Maryland

At Advanced Nursing + Home Support, we want to give you the peace of mind knowing your loved one is well-cared-for without it feeling clinical. Our team of experienced care providers offers varying levels of care to meet every individual need, from occasional help with transportation to daily in-home skilled nursing care. Call today for care tomorrow!

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