ER vs. urgent care vs. local clinic: Where should I go?

Should I go to the ER or an immediate care center? Which is best?

Many injuries, illnesses and other health-related situations might make you think of heading to the nearest hospital emergency department. However, depending on your symptoms and the severity of your condition, this may not always be your best choice. You might not know the best place to go for the care you need. Here are some things to consider when you need medical help from your doctor, an emergency department, an immediate care center, or a retail clinic.

Should I go to my regular doctor?

According to Mary Rademaker, M.D., medical director of Norton Immediate Care Centers, one important way to decide where to seek care is to consider the severity of your medical condition or injury. If it’s not severe, then calling your primary care provider or visiting an immediate care center may be a better care option. It could mean a shorter wait and may save you some money as well. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Dr. Rademaker recommends that if you’re sick or injured when your doctor’s office is closed, an immediate care or urgent care center is an excellent option. Norton Immediate Care Center – Preston is open 24/7, with some reduced hours on major holidays; and most other locations are open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. All Norton Immediate Care Centers have on-site lab and X-ray capability.

“Norton Immediate Care Centers are not only convenient and quick, but they also likely will be less expensive,” Dr. Rademaker said. “Norton Immediate Care Centers are staffed by excellent and highly skilled physicians and nurse practitioners who can handle many conditions that need to be treated right away but are not considered true medical emergencies.”

When should I go to the emergency room?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important keep emergency departments clear for true emergencies. Knowing when to seek emergency care and when not to helps local health care providers manage ongoing COVID-19 cases.

Hospital emergency departments are designed to provide care for life-threatening situations. Many people, however, go to an emergency room without realizing they have other options for conditions that aren’t as serious. “Urgent care versus emergency room” is an important decision for ensuring that you get the most timely and appropriate treatment when you need care.

“Emergency room visits really should be only for true medical emergencies,” said Dr. Rademaker. “If you’re going to the ER, it really should be only for a life-threatening or very serious illness or injury.”

Many medical situations — even ones that are not life-threatening — can be scary. The helpful lists below can help you assess whether a situation would call for emergency care or urgent care.

Emergency care

  • Trouble breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Passing out or fainting
  • Severe chest pain or pressure
  • Severe injury of the head, neck or spine
  • Sudden lack of ability to speak, see, walk or move
  • Sudden weakness or droopiness on one side of the body
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Broken bones
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings
  • Drug or alcohol overdose
  • Sudden loss of vision

Urgent care

Immediate care centers treat illnesses and injuries that are less than life-threatening, but still warrant quick attention. People often seek care here when they don’t have a primary care provider, or their provider isn’t available. The following symptoms or conditions would call for a visit to an immediate care center:

  • Cold, flu and other viral illnesses (unless you have trouble breathing, then go to the emergency department)
  • Ear and sinus infections
  • Bronchitis, pneumonia and mild to moderate asthma issues
  • Rashes and allergic reactions
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration
  • Bladder infections
  • Minor pediatric illnesses
  • Skin infections
  • Abscess care, including drainage
  • Cuts, abrasions (scrapes) and minor burns
  • Insect stings and bites
  • Sprains and strains/concern for a possible broken bone

“If you go to an urgent care center and the provider there believes you need care beyond what the center can provide, they will direct you to the emergency department,” Dr. Rademaker said.

All Norton Immediate Care Centers can perform basic on-site lab testing and have X-ray equipment. All are connected to a large integrated network of specialists that offers any medical service you may need.

For the care you need now

Primary care | Norton Prompt Care at Walgreens | Norton Immediate Care Centers | Norton eCare

Choose your care option

Norton Prompt Care at Walgreens clinics

Norton Healthcare has partnered with local Walgreens stores to offer another option for fast, convenient medical attention for a variety of situations. Prompt care is a bridge between urgent care/emergency department and a general practitioner. Prompt care is available for patients ages 2 and older.

  • You can make an appointment or walk in for care.
  • A variety of services are offered: vaccinations, well visits, physical exams and more, provided by a nurse practitioner at a neighborhood Walgreens store.
  • Learn your links: tests for cholesterol, blood sugar and other risks for heart disease.
  • Additional features include: rapid testing for HIV, open on weekends and holidays, one-stop shop for receiving care and prescriptions, extended hours during the week and self-pay pricing options

Scheduling an appointment

You can walk in or reserve your spot online and wait at home for all Norton Immediate Care Centers.

Norton Healthcare’s 18 immediate care centers are located throughout Louisville, Southern Indiana and surrounding communities. For families with young children, Norton Children’s After Hours offers care at Norton Immediate Care Center – Preston at select times.

Make an online appointment at Norton Prompt Care at Walgreens here.

Find a Norton Healthcare emergency department here.

Schedule an Appointment

Select an appointment date and time from available spots listed below.