How to Know Whether to Go to Urgent Care or the Emergency Room

How to Know Whether to Go to Urgent Care or the Emergency Room

When you or a family member are sick or injured, deciding where to get care is the last thing you want to have to figure out.

Understanding your options now will make decisions easier when you need immediate care.

If you are ill or injured, your primary doctor is your best starting point. They have quick access to your health history and any underlying medical conditions. This makes them the best choice to make informed decisions about your care. Even outside of normal office hours, a phone call to your doctor’s office can help you determine whether you need an emergency room (ER) visit, a trip to the Urgent Care, a regular doctor visit or just medical advice.

The Emergency Room and Urgent Care are not interchangeable. There are some notable differences. If a medical condition is life-threatening or involves severe wounds, you should go directly to the nearest ER. If you are seeking treatment for a non-life-threatening condition or a minor injury that requires medical treatment, then an Urgent Care may be right for you.

If your symptoms come on gradually or you already know the diagnosis — for example, you recognize that your child has developed an ear infection — it’s worth calling your primary care doctor’s office to see if you can get a same-day appointment.

While Urgent Care clinics are not a substitute for your primary care physician, they are a great resource when you need care quickly but can’t get in to see your regular doctor. Here are some of the conditions which would be more appropriately treated at an Urgent Care:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Animal or insect bites
  • Breathing discomfort, such as moderate asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Ear pain
  • Fevers, flu or cold symptoms
  • Minor back pain
  • Minor trauma such as a sprain or shallow cut
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Sore throat
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

choosing emergency room or urgent care


The conditions below generally need to be treated at an Emergency Room. If you believe the condition is truly life threatening, it is best to call 9-1-1 instead of trying to get to an ER yourself.

  • Acute shortness of breath
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Paralysis
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Acute allergic reactions (like bee stings or food allergies)
  • Severe chest pain
  • Severe head or eye injuries
  • Severe wounds and amputations
  • Signs of stroke, like sudden onset of numbness in the arms or legs
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Unconsciousness
  • Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy


Wait times for minor injuries and illnesses are often shorter at Urgent Care where patients are treated on a first-come, first-served basis. Emergency Rooms make their care decisions based on the severity of the injury or illness and how quickly it needs to be treated from a medical basis. This means going to the ER for minor injuries or illnesses that could easily be treated at Urgent Care can lead to a lengthy, even hours-long wait.

Choosing the right type of facility will not only assure you get more prompt and appropriate care, it can also save you money. Urgent Care facilities generally will cost you less money than going to an ER as the fees are usually less than an Emergency Room for the same services. However, going to an Urgent Care when you really need Emergency Care can result in additional bills.

Research now and check with your health plan to learn how they would like you to handle treatment for unexpected injuries and illnesses. Determine before you need it where the closest Urgent Care and ER facilities in your health plan’s network are. And download this convenient chart to help you decide which facility to choose when the time comes. Knowing this information will save you time and money in an immediate care situation.

For more information on health benefits and your plan, contact your Roper account manager today. Don’t have a Roper Account manager yet? Give us a call at 303-721-1145 and we’ll be happy to get you taken care of.

This post is not a substitute for medical advice and is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult a medical professional.