After being discharged from an emergency department, you may be given instructions regarding follow-up care. Generally, your emergency services physician will suggest that you follow up with your primary care doctor. Recovery will vary based on injury or illness severity, but you will be provided with comprehensive instructions for your specific situation when leaving the emergency department.
Be sure to follow these instructions carefully, and ask any questions that you have, to ensure the best possible outcome.
How to tell whether you should go to the ER or urgent care
Emergency departments treat life-threatening injuries and illnesses. They prioritize patients based on the severity of their symptoms, and will admit critically ill or injured patients to the hospital for closer monitoring.
Trauma centers are one step up from emergency departments. If you are seriously injured in an accident and sustained head trauma or bodily injuries, you may be transported to a trauma center instead of an emergency room.
Trauma centers are ranked in four classes. Levels 3 and 4 centers can be used to stabilize patients, but the sickest or severely injured may need more care. They would then be transferred to a Level 1 or 2 center. There is more comprehensive care at these centers, with Level 1 trauma centers being used for the most severe injuries. Levels 1 and 2 centers have highly specialized physicians and surgeons available around the clock to meet the unique needs of their patients.
If you or someone you’re with is experiencing a medical emergency such as severe bleeding, chest pain, or loss of consciousness, always call 911 as soon as possible.
For other injuries or illnesses, it can be a little less clear what you should do. Urgent care clinics provide same-day treatment for conditions that are serious but aren’t causing immediate danger to life or limb.
For minor illnesses or injuries, urgent care may be the best place to go. Urgent care clinics are equipped to treat the flu, earaches, rashes, urinary tract infections, minor bone fractures, bites, and small cuts that require stitches.
Urgent care is not meant to be a replacement for your primary care physician, but they are a useful resource if you cannot get an appointment quickly enough, or your primary care physician’s office is closed. If you choose to go to an urgent care center but your illness or injury is too severe to be treated there, they will send you to the nearest emergency department for treatment.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.