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When Should I Go to the ER Instead of Urgent Care?

When Should I Go to the ER Instead of Urgent Care?

Emergency rooms across the United States see around 130 million people per year, and they’re busier than ever due to the Covid-19 pandemic. With so many people in and out of the emergency room, long wait times are to be expected. This is especially true for injuries and illnesses that don’t necessarily issue time-sensitive threats to your health. 

Our urgent care services at Westmed Family Healthcare in Westminster, Colorado, can address your family’s medical concerns quickly and effectively. With a range of lab services and imaging tests at their hands, experts Clifton Etienne, MD, Michael Cavanagh, MD, and Flora Brewington, MD, can accurately identify various illnesses and injuries and treat them promptly. 

While urgent care centers like ours are well-equipped to address a sprained ankle, sore throat, or urinary tract infection, these issues take up the already-scarce resources in the emergency room. But other medical concerns warrant an emergency room visit. 

If you or a loved one experiences a medical concern, you might wonder whether an ER visit is worth the trip or if you can go to urgent care for what you need instead. There are a few rules of thumb for when to choose the emergency room.

When you can’t breathe

Whether you’re choking on an object or experiencing spontaneous shortness of breath, breathing problems often indicate serious and potentially life-threatening medical events. Shortness of breath is one of the most common reasons for emergency visits. You should head to the ER instead of our office if you’re struggling to breathe and aren’t sure why. 

This isn’t the case for mild breathing problems you can easily explain away, like when you’ve just finished an intense workout and are catching your breath or are congested and breathing through a single nostril. But it is the case when you feel like you can’t inhale enough air or your breathing struggles come with chest pain, which is another indication you should go to the ER. 

At the emergency room, a medical expert immediately administers oxygen therapy as they monitor your blood oxygen levels and perform diagnostic testing. 

When there are signs of a head injury

Not just a head injury, but any medical event involving indications of a brain-related problem should be seen at an emergency room instead of an urgent care clinic. There are multiple telltale signs something’s up with your brain, including:

If you notice signs of a concussion, stroke, or other brain-related concern in a loved one, you should immediately get them medical attention in an emergency room setting. 

When there’s excessive bleeding

Any major soft tissue injury that exposes lots of flesh or causes lots of bleeding requires an emergency room visit. This doesn’t include minor bleeding from a paper cut, hangnail, or skinned knee. But it does include burns, which may not bleed a lot if they were cauterized in the process. 

Before you arrive at the ER by ambulance or by car, you should try to control the bleeding by putting pressure on the wound and keeping the injury elevated, if possible. 

Sometimes bleeding isn’t something you can detect, as it can also happen inside your body. If you’re in a car accident, it’s a good idea to swing by the emergency room even if you don’t see blood so physicians can make sure you’re not bleeding on the inside or treat any internal bleeding before major complications arise. 

When you break a bone

With the exception of your fingers and toes, which we can treat in an urgent care office, you should visit the ER when it’s clear you’ve broken one of the bigger bones in your body. A broken bone might not break through your flesh, but you might have trouble moving the injured body part along with immense pain. 

Not sure if an emergency room visit is appropriate?

There are countless injuries, illnesses, and sudden medical events that could happen to you or a loved one at any time. If you’re not sure where to go, or if your problem is mild to moderate, call or click to get in touch with Westmed Family Healthcare for compassionate same-day care.

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