ER or Urgent Care: How to Decide - Ascension Wisconsin

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Published on June 15, 2015

When to Choose ER, Urgent Care or Your Doctor's Office

It's not always clear when you or a family member should visit the emergency room, call 9-1-1, or whether a trip to your doctor's office or urgent care is your best choice. We can help you decide.

When to Visit the ER

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) offers a list of warning signs for a medical emergency, which may require a trip to the emergency room:

  • Any sudden or severe pain
  • Changes in vision
  • Chest or upper abdominal pain or pressure
  • Confusion or changes in mental status
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Difficulty breathing; shortness of breath
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Fainting, sudden dizziness, weakness
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Suicidal feelings
  • Shortness of breath
  • Uncontrolled bleeding
  • Unusual abdominal pain

When in Doubt, Always Call 911

If you suspect a life threatening condition, call 911 or visit a hospital immediately. In many emergencies, seconds save lives.

To help you decide if you should call 911 answer these questions (as best you can):

  • Is the condition life or limb threatening?
  • Could the condition worsen quickly on the way to the hospital?
  • If you move the victim, will it cause further injury?
  • Does the person need skills or equipment that paramedics or EMTs carry right away?
  • Would distance or traffic cause a delay in getting the person to the hospital?

If the answer is yes to any of these, call 911.

When to Visit Your Doctor's Office or Urgent Care

But, there are other conditions that are serious enough to require a visit to an urgent care or immediate visit to your doctor’s office:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Animal bites
  • Boils
  • Coughs, colds and sore throats
  • Ear infections
  • Fever or flu-like symptoms
  • Foreign body removal
  • Minor burns or injuries
  • Rash or other skin irritations
  • Sprains and strains

For help deciding on next steps for specific symptoms, visit our adult and pediatric interactive Symptom Checker ... anytime, day or night.

Remember: When in doubt, always call 911.

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ER or Urgent Care: How to Decide