LiveSmart: Urgent Care or Emergency Department – Where Should You Go?

[By Axel Herrmannsdoerfer, M.D., Medical Director for St. Peter’s Health Partners Urgent Care.]

Your head is pounding and your body is aching, and you’re pretty sure you have the flu. Or, maybe you’ve cut your hand while making dinner. In either scenario, a trip to urgent care is likely in your future.

But when should you bypass the urgent care center and go directly to the emergency department? Weighing the convenience of a quick visit to urgent care, versus a possibly longer wait time at the ED, it can be a difficult choice.

Urgent care is designed to treat minor trauma and illness in otherwise healthy people. Muscle aches, minor sprains, abrasions, bug bites/poison ivy, bruises, the flu, cough, cold, and congestion are all ailments where a trip to urgent care is warranted. Minor cuts on extremities that might need a few stitches are appropriate for urgent care, although facial lacerations or eye injuries should go directly to the emergency department.

Any time treatment time is critical, you should be thinking about the emergency department. If you are having trouble that is impacting your organs such as the brain, the heart and the lungs, don’t delay – either call 911 or have someone drive you to the emergency department.

If you have weakness or numbness on one side of the body, or sudden onset of confusion, those are signs of a possible stroke. Time is brain if you’re suffering a stroke – the sooner you can get treatment, the better the outcome.

Likewise, time is of the essence if you suspect you’re suffering a heart attack. Just as with stroke, time is muscle. Going to the emergency department provides you with access to a high-level team of cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, and vascular specialists, who can diagnose and treat cardiovascular disease quickly.

Bleeding that won’t stop with pressure is another reason to head to the emergency department, especially if the person is being treated with anti-coagulants for other health issues. Also, the emergency department should be your first choice with patients younger than 3-months-old or seniors with other complex health issues.

St. Peter’s Health Partners has six convenient urgent care clinics located throughout the Capital Region, including its newest location in Saratoga Springs. Each urgent care is staffed with a team of specially trained professionals who respond to a wide range of illnesses and injuries for patients of all ages. Board-eligible/certified emergency physicians, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurses all work together as a team to provide a patient-focused approach to health care.

Digital medical imaging is available at all six locations, as are employer, sports and back-to-school physicals. Department of Transportation (DOT) physicals are available at the Saratoga, Clifton Park, East Greenbush, and Vandenburgh Ave. locations.

St. Peter’s Urgent Care also has “Skip the Wait,” which allows you to check wait times at all six locations, select a location, and save your place in line before you head in. Visit SPHP.COM/UrgentCare for more information.


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