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Should the cut on your hand or the chest pain send you to the ER or an urgent care center? It’s difficult to be sure. Urgent care centers provide fast, noncritical health care on a walk-in basis. A visit is generally around the same price or slightly more than a clinic visit but far cheaper than a trip to the emergency room.

But how do you know when you may need urgent care or when to choose another treatment option?

Urgent care fills a health care gap

According to experts, many patients visit emergency rooms for health care issues that could be handled elsewhere. Urgent care centers can usually handle injuries and illnesses that need immediate care but are not life-threatening or debilitating. Examples include minor cuts and burns, back or muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhea.

Urgent medical conditions are ones that are not considered emergencies but still require care within 24 hours. Some examples include:

  • Accidents and falls
  • Cuts that don’t involve much blood but might need stitches
  • Breathing difficulties, such as mild to moderate asthma
  • Diagnostic services, including X-rays and laboratory tests
  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Fever or flu
  • Minor broken bones and fractures in fingers or toes
  • Moderate back problems
  • Severe sore throat or cough
  • Skin rashes and infections
  • Sprains and strains
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or dehydration

Primary care providers manage routine health care

A primary care provider, or PCP, can manage most of your regular health care needs. PCPs offer cheaper treatment choices, and you’ll often see them before going to a specialist, although they may coordinate your overall care. For general health concerns, consider contacting a primary care provider.

When to Choose Urgent Care

Emergency departments provide critical care

Emergency departments are indispensable if you’re critically ill or injured but will likely be your most expensive option. Of course, in a true emergency, the cost is the last thing on many people’s minds.

While urgent care could save you from an expensive ED visit, it’s better to err on the side of caution if you’re hurt or sick and not sure what to do. If you can’t make it to the hospital or the situation is life-threatening, you can call 911.

Dial 911 immediately for any medical problem that appears life-threatening. Some examples of conditions that need emergency medical care include:

  • Compound fracture, which involves a bone protruding through the skin
  • Convulsions, seizures, or loss of consciousness
  • Deep knife wounds or gunshot wounds
  • Fever in a newborn less than 3 months old
  • Heavy, uncontrollable bleeding
  • Moderate to severe burns
  • Poisoning
  • Pregnancy-related problems
  • Serious head, neck, or back injury
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • Heart attack symptoms, such as chest pain that lasts longer than two minutes
  • Stroke symptoms, such as vision loss, sudden numbness, weakness, slurred speech, or confusion
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings

If you need help understanding how your health insurance covers different treatment options, just reach out — we’re here for you.

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