When Should You Go to Urgent Care or the ER?

In our blog we often explain when you should see your health care professional. But there are times when a health care situation is urgent and calling the clinic in the morning may not be the best course.

Here’s information you may print off and put in your phone book or a place where you and your family can easily find it in case of a medical situation that can’t wait.

Doctor’s Office or Clinic — When to Visit

Your health care provider should be your first destination for non-emergency care. It’s a good idea to be aware of your clinic’s hours (including weekend hours), phone number and address. Print this blog and write your provider information below.






Urgent Care — When to Visit

Urgent care is a good choice for receiving care when your primary care provider isn’t available, such as after hours, on weekends and on holidays. List the hours, phone number and address of your nearest urgent care center. Check which center is covered by health insurance you may have.






Go to Urgent Care for medical problems such as:

  • Allergy symptoms
  • Animal and bug bites
  • Bladder infection
  • Coughs, congestion and sinus problems
  • Cuts, scrapes and lacerations
  • Ear infection
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Infection
  • Minor burns
  • Pink eye or other minor eye problems
  • Rashes and other skin conditions
  • Respiratory illness
  • Sore throat
  • Sprains and minor injuries
  • Stomach pain
  • Other health concerns that can’t wait for an appointment with your doctor

Emergency Room — when to visit

When you have a serious medical condition that requires immediate attention, seek emergency care.

Call 911 if the situation is life threatening. If you call 911, emergency responders are trained to react quickly and transport you to the health care facility that can best meet your needs.

Go to the nearest emergency room for:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Broken bones
  • Changes in mental status, such as confusion
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Extreme pain, especially if the cause is unknown
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pain that’s sudden or severe
  • Severe burns
  • Severe head pain or injury, including loss of vision
  • Severe vomiting or diarrhea
  • Sudden dizziness, weakness, changes in vision or loss of consciousness
  • Suicide attempt
  • Suspected poisoning or drug overdose
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Children under 3 months who need immediate care should also be taken to an emergency room

Choose the Right Health Care Facility

The emergency room is designed for conditions that are truly life threatening. Go there for treatment to save life, limb or eyesight. Avoid the emergency room for lesser problems.

Not only will emergency care cost more, but if you visit an emergency room for a problem that isn’t a true emergency, you may have a long wait while people with more pressing medical needs are tended to. The wait could be much longer than if you visit a clinic designed for non-emergency problems. Plus a clinic or urgent care center may be closer to you.

At many Aurora Urgent Care Centers, you can check wait times online and make a reservation for your visit time to reduce your wait. Receive a text message before your scheduled time as a verification.

Meet the Author

James Samuel, MD is a board certified family medicine physician at Aurora Urgent Care in Gurnee, Illinois

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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