Tips to Help You Decide on Urgent Care vs. ER
It’s a Saturday afternoon, and your daughter turns an ankle on the soccer field. Or the earache your son has been fighting all week is suddenly worse, and now he has a fever. It’s a predicament almost every parent has found themselves in at one point of another. Chance are, the pediatrician’s office is closed since it is a weekend, so where do you take your child for care?
While many parents’ first reaction may be to go to the emergency room, many others are now turning to a new and growing option in community health care: urgent care centers. With their extended hours and walk-in policy, urgent care centers are designed to offer quick medical attention for acute non-life-threatening problems that are beyond the scope or availability of the primary care physician.
Longtime urgent care physician David Pick offers a simple suggestion for knowing when to go to an urgent care.
“Whenever you can,” said Pick, urgent care medical director for Baptist Outpatient Services, which has three centers in Broward County with more planned. “Almost anything can go to the urgent care if you expect to walk in and walk back out.”
According to the Urgent Care Association of America, there are more than 8,700 urgent care centers in the U.S., a number growing by the rate of 300 new clinics each year. One of the key benefits is a shorter wait time than in most ERs. The UCAOA reports that 57 percent of patients wait 15 minutes or less to be seen, and about 80 percent of all visits are 60 minutes or less.
“It is a much better idea for children because it takes away the drama of children seeing really ill people around them in an ER,” said Pick, who has worked in emergency departments as well as privately owned and hospital-run urgent cares for the past 25 years.
Noemi Rivera is the medical director at Weston Urgent Care, a part of the Broward Health system.
She said her clinic sees anywhere from 1,200 to 1,300 patients per month, but there are plenty more patients who go to the ER when they really don’t need to be there.
Among the pediatric ailments they treat are common colds and flu, earaches, urinary infections, minor wounds and lacerations, sprains and strains, simple fractures, vomiting, diarrhea and more. Need simple lab work, including blood sugar, strep or urine tests? They offer that, too, along with an in-house radiology department for X-rays.
“It is a step between the doctor’s office and before the ER. We do more than they can do at the doctor’s office but less than what they do at the ER,” Rivera said.
They try to have patients treated and out the door within an hour’s time, and Rivera said, an urgent care center co-pay is often cheaper than an ER co-pay.
Miami Children’s Hospital is one of a growing number of hospitals that have opened urgent care facilities throughout Florida. Ten years ago, it opened its first one in Palmetto Bay and has expanded to West Kendall and Doral, with more on the way.
Sandra Rivera-Luciano, the medical director of the MCH Urgent Care Centers, said not only are the centers great after-hours alternative for families, but they are also a way of decompressing the demand on their ER, which sees 90,000 patients every year, even with urgent care centers available.
“We want the emergency department to do what they do best, which is to treat the critical child and the intermediary child, and let the urgent cares compliment that with what they do in a safe manner,” Rivera-Luciano said.
Rivera said for years the ER was the safety net for children and adults who couldn’t afford private health care, and in today’s struggling economy, that hasn’t changed. She said their urgent care centers take care of anyone regardless of their ability to pay.
“That makes parents feel safe, regardless of what their finances are, that we are there to help them and provide the care they need,” she said.
Many urgent care centers offer websites where parents can go online and check wait times or even text for the same information.
Pick said just as no two hospitals are alike, neither are any two urgent care centers. Some are privately run, while others are physician-, corporate- or hospital-owned and sometimes offer different services. Some are even geared toward children. He said parents should first seek the advice of their physician or call ahead and find out whether a center has the services their child needs.
When to go to the ER or call 911
(From The National Association for Ambulatory Care)
- Chest pain or other signs of a heart attack
- Stroke symptoms
- Difficulty breathing
- Severe bleeding or head trauma
- Loss of consciousness
- Sudden loss of vision or blurred vision
- Compound bone fractures that break through the skin
When to go to urgent care
- Minor burns or injuries, cuts or simple wounds
- Sprains and strains
- Common cold and flu
- Non-life-threatening allergic reactions, rashes or animal bites
- Simple bone fractures Broken bones.
- Vomiting nausea and diarrhea
- Painful or burning urination
- Nonsevere asthma attacks
Source: Florida Sun-Sentinel