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Emergency Care versus Urgent Care: Know the Difference?

It’s a holiday night and you have a family member who’s burning with fever and vomiting. Quick, what do you do?

A common answer is to bring your friend to emergency care as quickly as possible. For most people, the term “emergency care” and “urgent care” means basically the same thing. Hence, if you’re confronted with the problem of where to bring a sick friend, the distinction between the two wouldn’t really matter. As long as you get to the hospital, that’s fine, right?

Well, not really. Even at this early stage understanding the difference between “emergency care” and “urgent care” can contribute to your friend’s wellbeing or survival. Here’s what you should know about this:


Emergency Care

Emergency care usually involves various medical emergencies like a stroke, a heart attack, or vehicular accidents. In many cases, they handle life-threatening situations that necessitate rapid response; otherwise the patient could die. For this reason, emergency department are available 24 hours a day, every day. In addition, they are equipped with advanced medical equipment to improve their response to all emergencies. Specialized physicians are also on call as they understand that every second matters when it comes to medical problems. In fact, some hospitals have plastic surgeons on call when it comes to possible deformities like dog bites.

But what are medical emergencies? It can include loss of consciousness, chest pain, severe shortness of breath, symptoms of stroke, and allergic reaction. They are also the go-to place when it comes to non-stop bleeding, seizures, head trauma, broken bones, and continuous vomiting. Nowadays, emergency care also handles psychiatric problems such as homicidal or suicidal thoughts.

When it comes to emergency care, there’s no such thing as refusal to treat. Physicians are required to render medical aid to patient, whether or not they can pay. Therefore, you can be sure that you won’t be turned away if you show up in emergency needing care.


Urgent Care

What about urgent care? Urgent care is primarily staffed by nurses and a few physicians. The extent of help they can give is limited and they also have set hours when accepting patients. This is because unlike emergency care, urgent care caters to more common medical problems. For example, they work with patients who have diarrhea, skin problems, joint pain, urinary tract infections, bronchitis, or muscle pain. Compared to emergency care, urgent care is not life-threatening and may be treated without specialized equipment.

Since urgent care is also more routine, patients have a shorter waiting time before being seen. Basic tests such as x-rays and vision screening also form part of their services.

Perhaps the most notable difference between the two is the fact that urgent care can turn away patients. They’re not mandated to accept any and all patients so if your condition doesn’t necessitate immediate help, you might be turned away for another day. At the same time, urgent care clinics will require payment or information about your insurance provider.

So what happens if you go to urgent care but actually need emergency care? The physician will do what they can and provide you life-saving help. However, they will also call emergency care services to pick you up so you can get better help.


911 or Other Emergency Number

Of course, not all medical emergencies allow you to bring a patient to the hospital. What if you’re the patient or if you’re not sure how to move the patient? If this is the case, 9-1-1 is your friend. Grab your phone and quickly make the call, explaining to the operator the problem and your current location.


What Happens if you Make the Wrong Choice?

The good news is that hospitals are prepared for most eventualities. If you bring an urgent-care patient to the emergency room, they will quickly evaluate the situation and provide the help you need. However, if you go to an urgent-care clinic when you actually need emergency care, they will send you to the emergency department. Simply put, emergency care can handle ALL kinds of problem but urgent care will not.

So if the hospital would actually correct any mistake you make, why do you need to know the difference between the two? Well, when it comes to any kind of health crisis, every second counts. If you bring a patient to the correct department at your first try, then the chances of providing life-saving help increases.


Waiting Time and Costs

As mentioned, urgent care has a shorter waiting time but emergency care will be more inclusive in their treatments. So why should you choose urgent care if emergency care will also treat you?

Well, there are several reasons, starting with the fact that emergency care operates based on immediate needs. If you come to emergency care with less severe problems, you might wait hours before being seen. With urgent care however, you might be walking out of there in just a few hours.

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