Emergency Department or Urgent Care?
Following are scenarios where you should
go to the Emergency Department.
“I’m having chest pains and am worried I may be having a heart
If you are having a heart attack, every minute counts and you should immediately call 911. The ambulance or first responders will take you to the Emergency Department for the appropriate tests and treatments.
“I’m noticing numbness or weakness and am worried I may be
having a stroke.”
If you are having a stroke, every minute counts and you should immediately call 911. The ambulance or first responders will take you to the Emergency Department for the appropriate tests and treatments. Any delay in treatment risks more damage to brain tissue.
“I have been in an accident and am worried about an injury to my
spine or brain.”
Loss of consciousness, pain radiating down an extremity or numbness/weakness are likely to require more advanced tests that are available in the Emergency Department. We can take x-rays in Urgent Care, but do not have access to imaging procedures such as MRI and CT scans.
“I’m worried that I may have taken an overdose.”
We do not have access to rapid toxicology tests in Urgent Care. The treatments required for most overdoses require monitoring in the Emergency Department, often followed by admission to the hospital.
Following is a list of other health concerns likely requiring evaluation that cannot be provided in Urgent Care:
“I have a sore, swollen leg and am worried I may have a blood clot.”
An ultrasound is usually required to diagnose a deep vein thrombosis and that test is available only at the hospital. If the situation seems urgent, you should proceed to the Emergency Department. Otherwise, you could consult with your primary doctor, who can schedule an ultrasound for you.
“I have abdominal or pelvic pain.”
In Urgent Care, we can check you for things like a bladder infection, vaginitis, or sexually transmitted illness. Conditions such as appendicitis, diverticulitis, gallbladder attacks, kidney stones, ovarian cysts or pregnancy complications usually require tests not available in Urgent Care. If there is severe pain, fever or bleeding, you should go to the Emergency Department. Otherwise, you should consult with your primary doctor to determine the best course of action.
“I have a toothache and my dentist’s office told me to go to
None of the clinicians at Urgent Care are dentists or have had dental training. In most cases, we are limited to prescribing an antibiotic and non-narcotic pain medication for toothaches. Your dentist could prescribe these things, too. The antibiotic helps only temporarily, if an infection is present. You still need to see the dentist.
“I was seen in Urgent Care for this problem a week ago and I am still
We do our best to diagnose and treat simple illnesses in Urgent Care. If things do not go well, however, it rarely makes sense to return for a second (or third, etc.) visit for the same problem. If the problem is severe, the Emergency Department is the next higher level of care. If it is not that severe, it is better to consult with your primary doctor, who can provide guidance as to further evaluation and treatment.
“My asthma has been acting up and I wonder if I need a different
You should not expect Urgent Care to manage conditions such as asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, recurring pain problems, etc. We do not refill chronic medications (including pain medications) in Urgent Care. We are unlikely to give advice on changes. You should consult with your primary care doctor on these issues.
Learn more about all of our immediate care options.