ER vs. Urgent Care—Know Where to Go

Going to the emergency room instead of an urgent care facility (or your primary care physician) can cost you. The U.S. National Institutes of Health says treatment in an ER can cost two to three times more than the same care in a doctor’s office. And those costs are often unnecessary. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately 10% of ER visits each year are for medical problems that are not urgent.

The key is knowing when to go where. This guide can help.

When to See Your Doctor

If your situation is not life-threatening, a call to your primary care physician is your first step. Your primary care physician knows your medical history and can decide if you need to come in or if he or she can treat you over the phone by offering advice or calling in a prescription.

When to Consider an Urgent Care Facility

If you need immediate treatment, your condition isn’t life threatening and your primary care physician isn’t available, consider an urgent care facility. They can help with:

  • Sprains and minor breaks in your fingers or toes
  • Infections like an ear infection or pinkeye
  • Minor burns
  • Flu symptoms
  • Animal bites and puncture wounds
  • Skin abscesses and infections
When to Go the Emergency Room

If you risk losing your life or a body part, go to the ER right away. They can help with:

  • Bleeding that doesn’t stop or deep, large wounds
  • Breathing problems
  • Change in mental status (such as unusual behavior, sudden disorientation or confusion)
  • Chest pain
  • Choking
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Fainting or losing consciousness
  • Thoughts of suicide or murder
  • Head or spine injuries
  • Serious burns
  • Severe or lasting vomiting
  • Signs of a heart attack or stroke
  • Sudden, severe pain anywhere in the body
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness or change in vision
  • Swallowing a poisonous substance
  • Upper abdominal pain or pressure