What are the differences between urgent care and the ER?
From more than 22 years of emergency medicine experience, I can say that well over 70 percent of people who go to hospitals (emergency rooms) have conditions that are not emergent—they are urgent. Urgent care provides immediate access to physicians for both children and adults. It does not manage catastrophic illnesses and injuries, such as signs of heart attacks or strokes, severe shortness of breath, poisoning, major life- or limb-threatening injuries, or severe wounds and amputations.
Urgent care facilities do not have intensive care backup like hospitals and ERs do, but typical cases seen for urgent care include allergies, minor burns, nausea, colds and flu, pink eye, cuts and wounds, sprains and strains, ear, nose, or throat infections, insect bits, and rashes. Comprehensive visits may include evaluation of abdominal pain, bronchitis, high blood pressure, and open wounds.
Additionally, urgent care is convenient, has shorter wait times than the ER, and is cost-effective and efficient without the fear and hassle that may come with a visit to big institutions. By going to urgent care, the fear and anticipation of going to the hospital are removed. Often, urgent care facilities do not provide 24-hour availability.
How do you know whether to take your child to the ER or to an urgent care facility?
Urgent care is for when the child is sick, injured, or unable to see their primary care doctor; it does not replace primary care—it augments it. Let’s say a child falls and has a cut on her chin; the pediatrician rarely provides sutures—urgent care does. Or if the child falls off the monkey bars and has a wrist or ankle injury, the pediatrician will most likely send you to a radiologist or orthopedist—urgent care is able to do the X-rays in the office and stabilize such injuries.
There is no universal answer, but if the child is in distress, if the child is having seizures, or unconscious, go to the ER. If your child is too sick to be seen in any medical office or any time you think your child is unstable, go to the hospital (ER).
Lawrence J. Kessler, DO, is a board-certified emergency physician who co-owns and operates ER-Dox/Pedia-Nyte urgent care facility in Suffolk and Nassau counties. ER-Dox is open seven days a week; appointments are not necessary. The facility takes most insurance and sees patients who do not have insurance with visits starting at $75. For more information on ER-Dox/Pedia-Nyte, call 888-437-3627 or visit er-dox.com.