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Does a broken arm require a trip to the emergency room (ER) or can you visit a local urgent care center? What should you do for high fevers? With the multitude of choices, it’s easy to become confused.

 

Emergency rooms

are intended to treat potentially life-threatening conditions and are open 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. Since patients with serious conditions are treated first, those with less urgent needs often wait longer to see a doctor. Although many healthcare plans cover a portion of an ER visit, you may have a co-payment, out-of-network charge, or physician charge—all of which generally cost more than urgent care centers.

 

Medical emergencies that require a trip to the ER include persistent chest pain or shortness of breath, symptoms of heart attack or stroke, loss of balance, fainting, difficulty speaking, weakness or paralysis, severe heart palpitations, severe headache, as well as sudden testicular pain and swelling. Emergency rooms also treat head and eye injuries, deep cuts that require stitches, vision loss, intestinal bleeding, vaginal bleeding with pregnancy, infants with a fever, fever with rash, serious burns, repeated vomiting, seizures or severe pain.

 

Urgent care centers

are designed to provide treatment to patients with less serious conditions. These centers have extended hours but are not equipped to handle major medical traumas or conditions. Patients are seen on a first-come, first-served basis, so you’ll likely experience shorter wait times than if you were to go to the ER where the most seriously ill are seen first.

 

You should visit an urgent care center if you have a condition that needs to be treated quickly, but is not an emergency. Typical symptoms treated in urgent care centers include a fever without a rash, a common sprain, painful urination, diarrhea, severe sore throat, vomiting, urinary tract infections, mild asthma or broken bones of the wrist, hand, ankle or foot.

 

Additionally, these centers treat patients who experience a gradual onset of symptoms, or if they already know the problem but can’t meet with their primary care physician. It is recommended that patients connect with a primary care physician for follow-up, even if they don’t already have one.

 

While you should always visit the emergency room if you’re unsure where to go, it’s important to know when to call 9-1-1. By calling for help, you can begin receiving life-saving treatment in the ambulance much earlier than if you were to drive yourself to the hospital.