Urgent care, also known as a walk-in clinic or urgent medical care center, is an excellent option for those with minor illnesses and injuries. It’s usually less expensive than visiting an emergency room and patients can often be seen more quickly than they would at their primary care physician’s office. An urgent care facility is typically not equipped to handle emergencies, but offers non-emergency medical services (minor cuts, dislocating a shoulder) for immediate treatment.
Emergency rooms see more serious cases such as heart attacks, gunshot wounds, and burns so it is important to call 911 if you believe that your condition warrants immediate attention. An emergency room can handle all types of emergencies (heart attack, stroke, food poisoning), provides diagnostic services (ruptured appendix), and possibly surgical procedures (cholecystectomy or appendectomy).
An emergency room and urgent care facility may be owned and operated independently, or by the same corporation. It may be easier to get in to see an urgent care doctor when the ER is crowded.
If you are in need of immediate medical attention, your decision should be based on how quickly you need that treatment. If you are experiencing a true emergency, go directly to an emergency room.