Today's Medicine

Should I Go to the Emergency Room or an Urgent Care Clinic?

Published: Aug. 24, 2021

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It's 7 on a Thursday night, and you're not feeling well. If your doctor's office isn't open, where do you go? In the past, the emergency room (ER) was the logical choice. I now tell my patients that an urgent care clinic can often be the answer to their after-hours needs.

Common Illnesses Mean Urgent Care

An urgent care clinic is perfect for common ailments such as colds, flu and strains. One study found that almost half of the ER patients who were not admitted to the hospital had only visited the ER because their primary care physician’s office was closed. These patients would have found an urgent care clinic to be a better choice. Urgent care is often less expensive when it comes to out-of-pocket costs. It's always a good idea to choose an urgent care location that's in your health insurance network to lower costs even more.

Life-Threating Ailments Mean Emergency Room

The emergency room is for life-threatening episodes. Reasons to go to the emergency room include any sign of a stroke, high fever, severe bleeding or pain. Another thing to consider is your wait time. Emergency rooms often see patients in order of the severity of the illness, so you may find your wait to be longer than expected. An urgent care clinic often sees patients on a first-come, first-served basis.

When To Call 911

Call 911 if you find yourself in a life-threatening situation. Driving to the emergency room could lose valuable time needed for treatment. Paramedics are able to assess a situation and begin care immediately.

A Guide to Common Problems

Use the infographic below to help make your choice. Methodist Physicians Clinic offers several urgent care locations and convenient hours. No appointment is necessary, but we recommend calling ahead to ensure timely service.

Remember, if you're in doubt, trust your instincts. Anyone with a severe illness or injury should go the emergency room.


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About the Author

Dr. John Franklin is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Methodist Physicians Clinic. He is a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians. He is active in Boy Scouts as a Scoutmaster and Girl Scouts as a parent volunteer.

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