The Major Difference Between Urgent and Emergency Care

When a person falls ill or is injured, it is vital that a nearby responsible adult knows how to find immediate care for them, such as convenient care clinics or 24 hour urgent care locations. A person may use a PC or a smartphone to look up local immediate care clinics if they do not already know one, and a search query such as “immediate care near me” may show some available locations. Searches for immediate care may be narrowed down by specifying 24 hour urgent care locations during an odd time of day, when ordinary clinics might be closed. And in some cases, it is not clear whether the patient needs urgent or emergency healthcare, so looking up hybrid clinics for immediate care can be helpful in that case. What are the differences between urgent care and emergency care? They are not the same, even though “urgent” and “emergency” might have similar connotations in other context.

What Emergency Care is Like

The highest level of healthcare is emergency care, which concerns itself with life threatening medical cases. Most often, the patient will be rushed to a hospital’s ER or to an emergency clinic, where they may be stabilized and taken out of harm’s way. Doctors and trained physicians will have the right tools and medicine on hand to help, and this can save a life.

What calls for this level of care? Patients may have suffered broken arms or legs, or they may have sustained eye or head injuries. Bullet or stab wounds may be bleeding heavily and caused internal organ damage, too. Other patients for emergency care have difficulty breathing or serious chest pain, which may turn life-threatening at any moment, if they are not already. If a patient is suffering or just suffered a heart attack or stroke, they may go in for emergency care. Meanwhile, abdominal pain is usually harmless, being caused by indigestion or gas, but if the abdominal pain is strong, sudden, or long-lasting, then it is time for emergency care. If the pain is like that, it may be caused by something more serious, such as internal bleeding or even cancer.

It should be noted that the ER should not be treated as a catch-all medical care center, as minor and non life-threatening medical cases are not serious enough to require them. Many patients visit the ER when an emergency clinic would have been better, and it wastes a lot of money and time to visit the ER for minor medical cases. Instead, the patient may visit an immediate care clinic, or a hybrid clinic that offers both urgent and emergency care. Fortunately, many urgent care centers can be found across the United States today, and some may be open 24 hours a day.

Going to Urgent Care

Unlike emergency care, urgent care (or immediate care) concerns itself with minor and everyday medical cases not serious enough for the ER. This is highly convenient, since most medical cases fall into this category, and if an urgent care center is running smoothly, a patient might expect a wait time as short as just 15 minutes or so. These are small and independent clinics staffed with nurse practitioners and physicians who have the medicine and supplies on hand to handle ordinary medical cases, though some clinics may form small local networks with one another. Ever since the early 1990s, many of these clinics have been built across the U.S.

Where are these clinics? Many are built into strip malls for convenience, though some are built into retailers, or may even be built into hospitals (and provide distinct care from the hospital itself). Other clinics are hybrids, offering urgent and emergency care side by side, which is helpful if it’s not immediately clear what level of care a patient needs. Many of these clinics offer treatment for bone fractures or wrist or ankle sprains, and guests may visit a clinic’s pharmacy or get medicinal relief from the cold or flu. The nurses on staff may offer lotion and ointment for bad sunburn cases or skin rash, and those nurses may also offer stitches and bandages for shallow cuts. Upper respiratory issues are another common reason to visit an urgent care clinic.

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