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Urgent Care or Emergency?

March 20, 2019

Whether it’s a stuffy nose or a sprained ankle, sometimes you need care right away. With today’s options in health care, it can sometimes be challenging to know where to go. After an injury, should you visit the emergency department? Or is an urgent care center a better option? 

Consider the severity of symptoms

“Urgent care centers provide good value for people who have minor issues and can’t get into the doctor that day, or are sick at a time when their doctor’s office is closed,” says Nancy Pook, MD, medical director of emergency services for Kettering Health Network. Dr. Pook notes that urgent care centers can be helpful for treatment of minor flu symptoms, strep throat, minor sprains, or some sinus or ear infections. “If symptoms are more severe though,” says Dr. Pook, “then you really need to be treated at the emergency department.”

For example, vomiting, dehydration, and lightheadedness are better treated at the emergency department where caregivers are equipped to start IVs. However, urgent care centers are a good place to go for minor belly pain or urinary tract infections.

The bottom line comes down to the severity of the symptoms and what setting is going to be equipped with the care you need. “In the emergency department, we have direct access to multiple specialists,” says Dr. Pook. “So, for example, if there’s any possibility that treatment will involve surgery, you need to be in the emergency department where we have access to every level of specialty.”

Caring for the whole family

Women are often the caretakers of the whole family—which means that, as a woman, you’re often not just making decisions about your health care. Many times, you’re also making decisions about the care of your child, partner, or parent.

“For children,” says Dr. Pook, “often a call to the child’s pediatrician can be helpful to sort through the acuity of the sickness.” However, Dr. Pook notes, when making a decision for an elderly parent, it’s often best to choose the emergency department over an urgent care center simply because of the complexity of care involved.

Urgent vs. emergency

The bottom line? Urgent care centers can be an excellent solution when your primary care doctor is unavailable or when you have a minor illness. But they are not a replacement for the emergency department, where caregivers are equipped to treat more major afflictions, such as badly broken bones, complex lacerations, dehydration, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or severe flu symptoms.

Whichever your destination, you can now save even more time by saving your spot in line at a Kettering Health Network urgent care center or estimating your emergency department wait time beforehand.

Visit to save your spot at an urgent care center or for wait times at an emergency department near you.