If you’re dealing with a medical issue and your doctor is unable to see you right away, what are your other options? Well, you can choose from urgent care clinics, hospital ERs, or stand-alone emergency rooms. Like many people, you’re probably confused about which one to use, and when. The answer: it all depends on how severe the condition is, which facilities are open, and what level of service you want for you, your family, and loved ones.
Urgent Care Clinics: Urgent care clinics are a sensible go-to for minor emergency needs when your doctor can’t see you right away. If you need a refill of your high blood pressure meds or if you have a sinus infection, an urgent care clinic can handle these medical basics. They are also generally less expensive than emergency rooms and require smaller co-pays.
However, most urgent care clinics have shorter hours and are limited on the services they can provide. Typically, they are staffed by nurse practitioners rather than doctors. Also, most urgent care clinics do not have imaging machines or lab services on-site, so if you think you have fractured or broken something, it’s best to go to an emergency room.
Emergency Rooms: You should definitely skip the urgent care clinic and go directly to an emergency room if you’re dealing with any of the following conditions:
* Severe shortness of breath
* Deep wounds
* Head injuries
* Chest pain
* Incessant vomiting
* Serious impact from a fall or car accident
* Severe burns
* Broken bone
Stand-Alone Emergency Rooms: Free-standing ERs are becoming more and more popular. They not only save patients a longer drive to the hospital but also the advantage of bypassing the unbearable wait times of hospital ERs. Free-standing emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day and are prepared to handle all medical emergencies , from ear infections and migraines to broken bones and heart attacks.
Free-standing ERs operate just like a hospital ER, but they lack on-site surgeons and blood banks. For conditions that require surgery or blood transfusions, free-standing ERs are equipped to stabilize the patient before directly admitting them to the hospital for surgical care or more complex procedures. The overall time from seeing the doctor to receiving treatment, even in most admission and surgery cases, is typically less with a freestanding ER because of shorter wait times, direct admission, quicker imaging, and faster lab results.
In addition to shorter wait times, many of the freestanding ERs offer an improved ER experience including comfortable waiting rooms, refreshments, elevated services, child-friendly rooms, and improved doctor-patient interaction. This option has proven to work well for parents who are up at 2 a.m. with their sick child — wanting to relieve their child’s discomfort, yet dreading the hospital ER waiting room. They can walk right into a freestanding ER center, without having to wait for hours, and have their child be seen almost immediately.
Hospital Emergency Rooms: For years, hospital ERs were the only option available for people needing medical attention when they couldn’t see their doctor. Afterall, hospital emergency rooms can handle any and all medical conditions. But this has led to overcrowded waiting rooms and long wait times. According to the CDC, the most recent statistic for the average ER wait time is close to an hour — not so bad if your visit doesn’t involve pain, discomfort, or uncertainty. But if you’re in the ER, chances are that your situation is more urgent.
So if you’re struggling with flu complications, abdominal pain, or a swollen ankle, yes, a hospital ER can definitely take care of you. But if you’re wanting to avoid long wait times, you now have the option of urgent care clinics for minor medical issues during the day and freestanding ERs for all types of emergencies at any hour of day.
As we mentioned earlier, the one major advantage of a hospital ER is that they have on-site provisions to handle blood transfusions and major surgeries. But what many people don’t know is that freestanding ERs can stabilize patients and admit patients for surgery just as fast, if not faster, than a hospital ER. They can even admit you for a hospital stay if needed — you essentially just skip a potentially longer process of a hospital ER due to longer waits to be seen, longer waits for lab results, and longer waits for radiology results.
→ When in doubt, you can always pay a visit to the nearest emergency rooms and urgent care clinics in your area to find the one you are most comfortable with.