AltaMed Urgent Care
Kids & Family Health

When to Go to Urgent Care vs. The ER

When you or a loved one is experiencing a health emergency, it can be difficult to know when it’s best to go to an urgent care center or the emergency room (ER). That’s why it’s important to know the appropriate choice for every situation.

When to Visit Urgent Care

According to the Urgent Care Association of America, more than 89 million people visit urgent care centers each year.

If your illness or injury is not life-threatening emergency and your doctor’s office is closed (nights, weekends, holidays), and/or you believe the situation cannot wait, urgent care is your best option. Urgent care centers have the equipment to handle serious but non-life-threatening emergencies and provide high-quality care.

Urgent care centers are the best call for conditions like:

  • Breathing problems
  • Skin conditions
  • Severe cold, cough and flu
  • Sprains and strains
  • Back, muscle and body aches
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Broken bones that have not broken the skin
  • Minor cuts or rashes
  • Animal bites
  • High fevers
  • Pneumonia
  • Ear infections
  • Urinary infections

With private insurance, visiting an urgent care center will cost you more than seeing your regular doctor, but can save you hundreds of dollars (or more) over an ER visit. AltaMed has a network of in-house and affiliated urgent care centers throughout Southern California. Find one near you now.

As an AltaMed patient, you can also access immediate telehealth appointments through AltaMed Now, plus schedule and manage routine care services, such as general health checkups, though MyAltaMed.

When to Go to the ER

The emergency room is for life threatening emergencies — the staff and equipment are there to provide life-saving care for severe cases. For life-threatening medical situations, you can call 911 or visit an emergency room. Most hospital emergency rooms are open 24 hours per day, seven days a week.

The ER is the correct destination if you or a loved one is experiencing:

  • A severe injury or major trauma, including a severe cut or burn
  • Overdose
  • Stroke or heart attack
  • Loss of consciousness
  • A seizure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Trouble speaking
  • Dizziness and loss of coordination
  • A head injury
  • Broken bones that puncture the skin
  • Heavy bleeding

Depending on what kind of insurance you have, a trip to the ER can cost you thousands of dollars, so be sure to reserve these visits for life-threatening emergencies. However, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms or conditions above, do not hesitate! Go to the ER.

Keep It Simple

Urgent care services are not a replacement for primary care. When you need routine medical care your primary care doctor should always be your first option. They know you best and will ensure that your care is consistent. However, urgent care and the ER are available to you for those times when you are experiencing more sudden or serious medical conditions.

Obviously, if you have a severe cut, are bleeding, or you are suffering a significant bodily injury, GET TO THE ER, STAT! In less dire situations, AltaMed has you covered through our vast network of urgent care locations. If you need help figuring out the right option for you, call us at (888) 499-9303.

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When to Go to Urgent Care vs. The ER