reviewed 8/14/2018

Emergency room or urgent care?

Emergency rooms (ERs) and urgent care centers serve very different purposes. When you need medical care right away, it helps to know which one is the better choice. This true-false quiz can help you learn the difference between them.

True or false: The main difference between an urgent care center and an ER is size.

False. The biggest difference between an urgent care center and an ER is the type of cases they can handle. When people have a condition that is life-threatening or could cause disability, they should go to the ER. If the problem is not that serious, urgent care may be a better choice.

True or false: Urgent care can be a good option if you have a health concern but can't get in to see your doctor quickly enough.

True. Urgent care centers can deal with minor illnesses like colds, the flu, earaches, sore throats and low-grade fevers. They can also handle non-life-threatening injuries, such as sprains, bruises, minor broken bones or minor eye injuries.

True or false: Both urgent care centers and ERs are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

False. ERs are open 24/7. Urgent care centers may be open 7 days a week, but with more limited hours that vary from location to location. Call ahead if you're unsure of an urgent care center's hours.

True or false: It's cheaper to be treated at an urgent care center than at an ER.

True. You're also likely to be seen and treated more quickly at an urgent care center. That's because urgent care centers see people on a 1st-come, 1st-served basis. ERs, on the other hand, treat patients based on the seriousness of their conditions.

True or false: If you or someone else has chest pain that lasts more than a few minutes, you should drive to an ER.

False. Call 911 instead. Chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack, and a heart attack is always an emergency. But don't drive to the ER—the condition could get worse on the way. Call 911 for immediate medical help.

Call 911 if:

  • You're unsure that you're facing an emergency.
  • The condition threatens life or limb.
  • The person could get worse on the way to the hospital, or traffic is an issue.
  • Moving the person could cause further injury.

Sources: American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine; American College of Emergency Physicians; American Heart Association; National Institutes of Health

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