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When Should You Go to an Urgent Care – Quick and Easy Healthcare Tips

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Graphic of a doctor writing a prescription with medical icons flowing around it.

While we’d all love if illnesses and injuries announced themselves in advance, life doesn’t work that way. Sometimes problems pop up out of nowhere. It’s easy to avoid thinking about how to get medical attention until you need it, but it’s better to know your options in advance.

For many people, the default destination for medical attention is the emergency room. This is often the right instinct. However, if ER care isn’t needed, you might face longer wait times and a way more expensive bill. Urgent care clinics are often a better alternative.

Should you choose the ER or urgent care for your condition? This question isn’t always easily answered. Let’s explore the differences between these medical facilities.

When to call 911

It’s understandable to feel hesitant to call 911. You might feel like you can get yourself to a hospital or ER faster than an ambulance can, and you might be worried about getting stuck with a massive ambulance bill. However, it’s often better to be safe than sorry.

In the event of a severe, life-threatening emergency like extreme chest pain or severe bleeding, call 911. This is especially true if you’re alone and have nobody to drive you to the hospital. 

If there is a significant risk of a condition becoming life-threatening on the way to the hospital, you should also call 911. Paramedics can begin treatment while on the way to the hospital.

Life-threatening conditions that necessitate an ambulance include:

  • Severe burns
  • Seizure
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Poison ingestion
  • Unconscious and unresponsive state

If you or someone else’s condition is not severe enough to need an ambulance, you can drive to either the ER or an urgent care clinic.

When to go to the emergency room

The purpose of an ER is in the name: emergencies. A condition should be considered an emergency if it requires immediate care or advanced treatment that only a hospital can provide, like surgery.

Emergency rooms are also the right choice if a part of your body stops working properly. For instance, if you can’t breathe normally or can’t move a limb, go to the emergency room. Severe burns, broken bones in dire areas like the head or ribs, and extreme confusion also necessitate emergency room care. When in doubt, use your best instincts. If you can’t decide, play it safe and choose the emergency room.

Urgent care vs. ER

As we’ve discussed, there are plenty of reasons to visit the ER. However, many emergency room visits are unnecessary. A recent study from Accenture reported that these unnecessary visits cost patients about $47 billion per year. Another report by Premier concluded that about 30% of ER visits were potentially unnecessary

Many of these unnecessary visits were by patients who didn’t know they had another option. In order to save yourself, your fellow patients, and the healthcare industry as a whole both time and money, it’s important to know what you can go to urgent care for.

When to go to urgent care

Because of the word urgent, some people get urgent care facilities mixed up with emergency rooms. Here the word ‘urgent’ refers not necessarily to the severity of the condition, but the accessibility of the clinic.

Many people visit urgent care clinics for issues they might visit a primary care physician for, but they need care during the evening, on weekends, or on holidays. Others visit during normal business hours but prefer the convenience of an urgent care facility over a large hospital complex.

Urgent care clinics also treat severe conditions that need urgent treatment within 24 hours, even if they aren’t considered life-threatening medical emergencies. These conditions can include:

  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Vomiting and intense nausea
  • Persistent cough/shortness of breath
  • Small cuts and abrasions
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bit or puncture wounds
  • Strains and sprains
  • Minor fractures
  • Earaches and ear infections

Urgent care for occupational medicine services

Occupational medicine concerns both reactive and preventative medicine related to the workplace. In most cases, the term can be divided into workers compensation and treatment related to workplace illness and injury. 

Because there is a massive overlap between occupational medicine needs and the types of treatments offered in urgent care clinics, these clinics are excellent resources for employees and employers needing occupational medicine services. 

Does urgent care do drug tests?

Because urgent care facilities already offer great occupational medicine services, many employers find that using them for other needs is extremely convenient. Companies that require drug screenings for employees can use urgent care clinics to help maintain safety and sobriety in the workplace. Xpress Wellness Urgent Care offers DOT compatible drug testing.

Does urgent care do stitches?

Among the most common types of injuries are cuts and lacerations. In some cases, cuts are mild enough to heal on their own with the use of a bandage and some disinfectant. If you need stitches, however, urgent care clinics can provide you with them. If you’re wondering if you cut is severe enough for stitches, these questions can guide you:

  • Do you have a deep cut on your hands or face? If so, seek medical attention for stitches. These areas are especially vulnerable to blood loss and infection, and they can quickly lead to weakness, swelling, bruising, and numbness.
  • Will your cut stay together? In order for a cut to heal, skin on both sides must be able to come together. If this can’t happen for any reason, you’ll need medical attention.
  • Is bleeding constant or severe?  A cut that can heal on its own should bleed for no more than ten to fifteen minutes. If it carries on longer, you need medical attention.
  • Is your cut the result of a bite? Animal bites can contain rabies and other serious pathogens. Human bites can also be extremely dangerous. It’s never worth the risk of letting a bite wound heal on its own.

In some cases, a cut can be severe enough to merit an ER visit. If your cut is life-threatening due to blood loss or other complications, skip the urgent care clinic and go straight to the emergency room.

Does urgent care do ultrasounds?

Some urgent care facilities do ultrasounds, but others don’t. In many cases, ultrasounds are used for regular checkups for pregnant women, so patients choose to visit their primary care physicians rather than an urgent care clinic. Demand doesn’t always justify keeping an ultrasound in house.

Xpress Wellness Urgent Care does have ultrasounds available, both for pregnant women and other patients. Ultrasounds are also useful for patients who are suffering from swelling or pain in their eyes, kidneys, liver, ovaries, testicles, bladder, or a myriad of other body parts. 

Does urgent care do x-rays?

X-rays are useful for diagnosing a wide variety of medical conditions like tumors, breaks, fractures, arthritis and more. Not all urgent care facilities have x-ray technology available, but many do, Xpress Wellness Urgent Care included. 

Some people view x-rays as ER or hospital-specific, but you can often get quicker, less expensive x-rays taken at urgent care clinics that are just as high-quality as those in hospitals.

Urgent care STD testing

Urgent care clinics are great places to get tested for STDs. Even if you and your partners are careful, no prevention method is foolproof, and regular testing can keep you safe. Xpress Wellness Urgent Care Care clinics are happy to provide quick, confidential testing for a wide variety of STDs.

Let Xpress Wellness Urgent Care help you

If you need help from an urgent care clinic, Xpress Wellness Urgent Care has you covered. Feel free to come directly to one of our clinics, no appointment necessary. If you’d like, you can also check in online ahead of time. Prefer telemedicine? We also offer virtual visits.

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