According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 141.4 million visits to emergency rooms in the United States each year.

This means that 45 in 100 people in the U.S. have been to an emergency room in the past year. Reports show that more than half of those visits were completely avoidable.

If you are sick or injured, but not sure an emergency room is the right option, consider an urgent care facility.*

What is the difference between urgent care centers and emergency rooms? There are a few things to think about before deciding on where to go.

Below are a few things that make each unique. Remember, if you are in a situation where you or someone around you is in a life-threatening condition, immediately go to a hospital emergency room or call 911.

When to visit a hospital emergency room

walking in a hospital

Emergency rooms are designed to treat patients with critical conditions and life-threatening injuries. They are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should visit an emergency room as soon as possible:

  1. Chest pain that persists and continues to radiate to your arm or jaw
  2. Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  3. Severe pain that begins in the abdomen and continues halfway down the back
  4. Clumsiness that seems to come on suddenly accompanied by loss of balance and fainting
  5. Difficulty speaking and trouble understanding speech
  6. Confusion or an altered mental state—this may include suicidal thoughts
  7. Weakness or paralysis that is sudden, specifically on one side of the body
  8. Severe heart palpitations
  9. Severe headache
  10. Testicular pain and swelling that is sudden
  11. Falls that cause serious injury
  12. Changes in vision that may include blurred or double vision
  13. Broken bones or dislocated joints
  14. Injuries to the head or eyes
  15. Serious burns
  16. Seizures with no diagnoses of epilepsy
  17. High fevers (these may accompany a rash)
  18. Severe flu or cold symptoms
  19. Bleeding from the vagina during pregnancy
  20. Persistent vomiting or diarrhea

When all else fails, trust your gut. If your instincts tell you to seek immediate medical care that is beyond what an urgent care can do, you should get to an emergency room as soon as possible.

When to visit an urgent care center

man in pain on hospital bed

Urgent care centers are not somewhere you should go if you find yourself in a life-threatening situation. Urgent care centers provide patients with convenient medical care at multiple locations.

They typically operate much later than traditional providers’ offices and are open on weekends. Contrary to private-practice provider offices, urgent care centers do not require patients to schedule an appointment.

While there is no defined list that can tell you when to visit an urgent care center instead of an emergency room, there are several conditions that are often associated with urgent care.

  1. Fevers that are mild
  2. Ear infections
  3. Seasonal allergies
  4. Bronchitis
  5. Sprains and broken bones
  6. Flu shots
  7. Wellness checks
  8. X-rays
  9. Burns that are not severe
  10. Urinary tract infections
  11. Travel vaccines
  12. Vomiting or diarrhea
  13. Minor back pain
  14. Contusions
  15. Minor eye injuries

Urgent care facilities typically also offer many a number of medical tests to help keep your family healthy.

Common tests offered include EKGs, flu tests, pregnancy tests, well-woman exams, sports physicals, STD tests, common blood work and audiometry screenings.

Benefits of an urgent care facility

provider and patient discussing care

On average, a visit to an urgent care facility costs around $50 to $150. This will depend on your co-pay and level of treatment. ER costs can be higher depending on your insurance plan and the services you need. 

If your condition is not life-threatening, the emergency room can have longer wait times. Many urgent care facilities will offer a website check-in option so you can wait from home for minor illness or injuries. In most cases, you can get in and out of an urgent care within 45 minutes to an hour.

Because emergency rooms typically treat those with life-threatening conditions, the average wait time for a visit to a hospital emergency room with a minor injury or illness is 4 hours and 30 minutes.

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How to prepare for an emergency room visit

woman feeling ill

While urgent care and emergency room visits tend to be quite unexpected, it is a good idea to bring a list of all the medications you’re currently on (this includes over-the-counter medication, vitamins ad supplements) if possible.

You should also bring a list of your allergies as well as any previous medical procedures you may have had.

It is a good idea to have these things written down before an emergency occurs so you can simply grab them and go when you’re in a time crunch. You should also put dates by any major procedures or surgeries you’ve had in the past as a provider will likely need to know this information.

If you are going to a hospital emergency room, it’s smart to bring a family member or friend with you. Depending on your condition, you may need someone to write down information you’re given and communicate with the staff.

While emergency room visits are usually sudden and unexpected, if you have the time beforehand, be sure to grab your driver’s license or other form of identification as well as your insurance card.

Your emergency contact information and names of your personal physicians will also be needed during the visit.

When to call 911

emergency responders putting patient into an ambulance

There are some cases where even the emergency room isn’t enough. You may need to call 911 immediately so that lifesaving treatment can begin as soon as medical services arrive. By calling 911, you will also receive treatment while en-route to the hospital.

  1. Difficulty breathing
  2. Numbness
  3. Slurred speech
  4. A headache that is sudden and severe
  5. A life- or limb-threatening injury
  6. Pain in the left arm or jaw
  7. Dizziness or a feeling of faintness
  8. An unresponsive or lethargic child
  9. Loss of consciousness

CareNow® is equipped to treat minor injuries and illnesses, but if you need a higher level of care, we can connect you to our affiliated ERs and specialized physicians in your area.

We make medical treatment convenient. You can even check in online to wait from home before your visit.

Web Check-In® For CareNow® Urgent Care

Visit a CareNow® urgent care today to get quality diagnosis and treatment, fast!

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Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.

Urgent Care and ER: Know Where to Go

When you or your loved ones are sick or hurting, the last thing you need to worry about is where to go to get the care you need. CareNow® partners with local hospitals, emergency rooms and specialty physicians in communities near our urgent care clinics to ensure you receive the level of care you deserve.

Medical Emergencies

If your health condition is more serious than our staff can treat, CareNow® will help facilitate your transportation to the nearest ER. The patient's health and safety always comes first. Medical emergencies and serious types of health conditions treated by an ER include:

  • You think you’re having a heart attack.

    Call 911 if you have pain, pressure or squeezing in the chest, a sense of fullness, shortness of breath, pain radiating down the arms or in the jaw or neck, cold sweats, nausea or dizziness.

  • You’ve suffered a head injury.

    If your head gets hit, and then you vomit, have confusion, become dizzy, or experience trouble with your vision, walking or talking, you need to go to the ER.

  • You have a seizure, but haven’t been diagnosed with epilepsy.

    If a person who hasn’t been diagnosed with epilepsy has a seizure, suffers a serious injury as a result of the seizure or is pregnant or diabetic, call 911.

  • You think you’re suffering from a stroke.

    Go to the ER if you experience stroke symptoms which include: weakness or sensory changes particularly on one side of your body, facial droop, confusion, and change in vision or speech.

Other reasons to visit an ER instead of an urgent care clinic could include other life-threatening conditions.

Our Hospital and Emergency Care Affiliations

CareNow Urgent Care is affiliated with some of the largest most comprehensive health systems across the country. That means no matter where you live, we make sure you’re connected to the closest ER or physician specialist if you need a follow-up or a higher level of care.