From breaks and sprains to bites and burns: When should you go to urgent care or the ER?

June 13, 2022

Obvious traumatic or life-threatening injuries leave no question on whether to head to the emergency room for care. But when the injury is less obvious or severe, uncertainty can add to your current stress levels.

So, what’s the difference between urgent care, hospital ERs, and free-standing
ERs?

Urgent care facilities like Texas MedClinic are excellent at treating routine illnesses like colds, coughs, allergies, fever, flu, strep, and COVID-19. Additionally, urgent care is the place to go for minor medical emergencies including cuts that require stitches, abrasions, sprains, strains, burns, and minor breaks and fractures where the bone is not bent or breaking the skin.
Patients with fractures often head to the ER, assuming they will be treated by an orthopedic surgeon. Not so, says Texas MedClinic’s Chief Operating Officer and practicing physician, Dr. David Gude. “In most cases, the injury is splinted by ER staff, just as it would be at an urgent care facility, and the patient is advised to schedule an appointment with an orthopedist at their office.”
In addition to shorter wait times, urgent care facilities do not come with an emergency room price tag and typically have lower insurance co-pays.

A hospital emergency room is the right choice for those experiencing serious or life-threatening medical events including drownings, serious falls, traumatic head and body injuries resulting from motorcycle or auto accidents, heart attacks, seizures, or strokes.
Hospital ERs are open 24 hours a day and are well equipped to handle the most complex and severe medical needs.

Free-standing ERs are a relatively new addition to the list of medical care options. Texas was the first state in the country to allow licenses for free-standing ERs, and there are now more than 200 such facilities throughout the state. Yet, while many assume free-standing ERs are comparable to hospital ERs in terms of the level of care, this is often not the case.
While FSERs are required to maintain much of the equipment and staffing that a hospital emergency room does, they don't have rapid and seamless availability of definitive treatments in a true emergency. Thus, a need for a cath lab, stroke center, or surgical suite always requires a transfer to a hospital, thereby wasting precious time.
In a study conducted by Rice University, free-standing ERs are more comparable to urgent care facilities but often charge 10 – 15 times more for their services. “It’s hard for consumers and patients to understand the differences in hospital emergency rooms, freestanding ERs, and urgent care centers when they have a healthcare emergency,” said Gude. “Knowing the facts and your resources before an emergency takes place will reduce anxiety and stress, allowing quick decisions for proper medical care.”

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