Should I go to the ER, an Urgent Care Clinic, or call my doctor?


August 8, 2022

As a caregiver, it’s important to know where to get care quickly when the person you care for is ill. Here are the options to help you make the right choice for the situation at hand. 

Should I call 911 and/or go to the hospital emergency room (ER)? 

An emergency condition is one that can permanently impair or endanger your life. Typically, something beyond the scope of a doctor’s office. Call 911.
Note – ER’s evaluate or “triage” each patient as they enter and treat the most life-threatening cases first; you could be in for a long wait. 

Should I go to my doctor?

Most doctors can do the same things an urgent care clinic can do. However, you may have to wait days, if not weeks, for an appointment. Visit your primary care physician for medical conditions that don’t need to be addressed immediately, your overall continuity of care, disease maintenance and/or prevention, specialist referrals, and routine lab work.

Should I go to urgent care or a walk-in clinic?

Drive to a local urgent care or walk-in clinic for medical conditions that are not life-threatening, but need to be addressed quickly. Choose urgent care if you can’t get a doctor’s appointment quickly. Research urgent care centers near you and keep their number’s handy. Call in advance to see if they are busy. 

Will insurance cover urgent care facilities? 

It depends on three factors:

  • First, if it is an urgent issue.
  • Second, what insurance you have.
  • Third, is the facility is in the network of your coverage?

All of this could affect the cost you pay. Remember, when you receive services, YOU are responsible for paying the provider, whether or not you have insurance. It’s a good idea to find out this information prior to visiting an urgent care clinic. 

Below are examples of conditions treated by Urgent Care clinics and ERs. NOTEif you are unsure, call 911 OR an urgent care center in your area and ask for advice.

Urgent Care (walk-in clinic) Hospital Emergency Room

Small cuts that may require stitches
Flu or cold symptoms
Sprains, minor fractures, or muscle pulls
Shortness of breath
Diarrhea and vomiting
Abdominal pain
Sinus infections
Ear infections or Earaches
Minor eye injuries / foreign objects in eye
Minor burns
Urinary tract infections
Sore throat
Rash, Poison Ivy/Oak, skin complaints
Upper Respiratory Infection

Heart attack and chest pain
Major burns and chemical exposure
Broken bones
Bleeding that cannot be stopped
Difficulty breathing
Abdominal pain that is intense and localized
Fainting or severe dizziness
Sudden numbness or weakness
Fever with convulsions 
Confusion or rapid changes in alertness
Coughing or vomiting blood
Severe headache or head injury, especially if the individual is on aspirin or blood thinners
Black or bloody diarrhea
Sudden inability to speak, see, walk or move

Sources: & and AAA Benefits Counselers. 

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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