Urgent care vs. ER: How do I decide where to go?

Some tips to help you make the best choice when you need fast care.

You feel sick, have a fever and have vomited several times. That ugly gash is a painful reminder to be careful after sharpening your favorite knife. Your child’s ankle looked fine after she twisted it while playing soccer, but now it’s swollen and looking much worse.

These situations, and many others, might make you think of heading to the nearest hospital. However, depending on your symptoms and the severity of your condition, this may not always be your best choice.

According to Mary Rademaker, M.D., 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 urgent care center may be a better care option. It could mean less wait time 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, who serves as medical director of Norton Immediate Care Centers, understands 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 room

Emergency rooms treat serious and life-threatening illnesses and injuries. The sickest patients are seen first, so others may face longer wait times. The following situations or symptoms would warrant a visit to an emergency room:

  • Trouble breathing or failure to breathe
  • 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 problems
  • 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

Schedule an immediate care visit

Online appointment scheduling is available for Norton Immediate Care Centers.

Schedule an appointment

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

Norton Healthcare’s 14 immediate care centers are located throughout Louisville and Southern Indiana.  For families with young children, Norton Children’s provides after-hours care at Norton Immediate Care Center – Preston.

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.

Schedule an Appointment

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