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HealthWise By Eliezer Nussbaum

When To See Urgent Care Or Emergency Care

January 21st, 2013 – It can be frightening when you get sick, especially when you can’t get an appointment with your primary care physician. When this happens, where do you go? Emergency departments come to mind, but they often have an average wait time of 45 minutes. When you need immediate treatment, will the emergency department be best or will urgent care be able to take care of you?

An Urgent Care Center is good for conditions that need medical attention the same day, but are not emergencies. Urgent Care Centers are usually open at night and on weekends, when your primary physician’s office may be closed. They often perform x-rays, stitches and treat minor injuries. Some conditions for going to Urgent Care include cuts you can’t tend to at home, vomiting that won’t stop, ear pain or sore throat not resolved with over-the-counter pain medication, and a sprain that prevents you from walking. If you are unsure if your local urgent care offers the treatment you need, call them ahead of time and ask.

The emergency department handles a variety of serious, alarming problems that threaten your life or organ function. Common reasons to go to the emergency department include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Stiff neck with a fever
  • Rapid heartbeat that won’t slow down
  • More than a minor head trauma or any loss of consciousness and seizures
  • Bleeding that cannot be stopped at home
  • Excruciating pain anywhere on your body
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Seizures
  • Sudden onset paralysis


When you should go to the Emergency Department:

- If you are experiencing the classic symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, it is essential that you seek care at an emergency department. Common heart attack symptoms include tightness in the chest, jaw pain and shortness of breath. Stroke symptoms include slurred speech, facial drooping and limb weakness. Every minute counts when treating heart attacks or strokes and you can directly be admitted to the hospital from the emergency department, rather than transferred from an urgent care.

- Whenever a pregnant woman has concerns or an infant is involved, it is important to take them to an emergency department. The hospital will have the equipment available to treat their unique needs.

- When you need medical assistance immediately at your location, such as in life or death situations, call 911. Medical professionals will bring an ambulance to your location and start administering medical treatment as soon as they arrive. Car accidents and head and neck injuries are some situations where you would need an ambulance.

Remember, your family physician knows you best. He/she can therefore provide the best care. When in doubt about where to go, call your primary care provider’s office. Most offices have nurses that can talk with you about next steps. On weekends and at night, doctors have answering services where you can leave a message and they will get in touch with you.

Talk to your physician at your next appointment and ask them where they recommend you should go in the case of an urgent situation. There are more than 50 urgent care centers in and around the Long Beach area. Your physician can recommend convenient locations for you. If you have a plan set before an incident, you will have one less thing to worry about should the need arise.