Emergency and Urgent Care
The ER vs. urgent care — what's the difference?
In most cases, your doctor's office is your best first call for help when:
- You have an earache, cough, sore throat or cold
- You have a question about a chronic health problem
- You're not sure where to go
But when the situation seems severe, or if your doctor's office is closed, you may need to visit one of the following:
- Emergency rooms (ERs) — for life- or limb-threatening injuries and illnesses (minor injuries also treated)
- Urgent care centers — for more minor injuries and illnesses (services offered will vary)
When to go to the emergency room.
Visit your closest ER or call 911 if you experience:
- Changes in mental status, such as confusion
- Chest pain or pressure
- Coughing or vomiting blood
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Severe allergic reaction
- Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Sudden dizziness, weakness or changes in vision
- Sudden or severe pain
When to go to urgent care.
Urgent care could be an option for:
- Minor burns
- Colds, cough or flu
- Eye, ear or skin infections
- Minor cuts, bruises and abrasions
- Respiratory infections
- Strains and sprains
- Urinary tract infections
Important options to consider.
Aside from symptoms, there are other factors to keep in mind when deciding between the ER and urgent care.
Before visiting the ER or urgent care, call your doctor or get a nurse hotline recommendation. This will make your decision easier.
Urgent care is often less expensive, so check your insurance ahead of time to see what you're responsible for. Note that all ER patients will be seen regardless of ability to pay.
And be sure to keep facility hours in mind. ERs are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — yet many urgent care centers close in the late evening.