Finding care alternatives to emergency room

Knowing when to seek emergency care

When facing unexpected medical conditions, you may want to go to the emergency room first. But this may not be your best choice. At the ER, true emergencies are usually treated first. Other cases must wait – sometimes for hours. And it may cost you more.

When to visit your primary care physician

If it's not urgent, it's usually best to go to your primary care doctor. Your doctor knows you and your health history. He or she can access your medical records. Plus, your doctor can provide follow-up care and refer you to specialists.

When to seek urgent care

Sometimes, you may need care fast. If your primary care physician is unavailable, you may want to try an urgent care center or retail health clinic in your network. Some employers also offer health services for minor ailments.

Chances are you won't have to wait as long as at the ER. You may pay less, too.

Urgent care centers and retail health clinics can typically treat things like:

  • Sprains
  • Strains
  • Minor broken bones (example: finger)
  • Minor infections
  • Small cuts
  • Sore throats
  • Rashes

When to go to the emergency room

In an emergency, go to the ER. Consider seeking immediate assistance for:

  • Heavy bleeding
  • Large open wounds
  • Sudden change in vision
  • Chest pain
  • Sudden weakness or trouble talking
  • Major burns
  • Spinal injuries
  • Severe head injury
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Major broken bones