Perhaps you’ve seen the advertisements for urgent care or retail clinics opening up around your neighborhood. Do you know the difference between retail clinics, urgent care and emergency room care? The following is a brief guide to help you determine which place is best for the type of care you need.
Retail clinics are usually found in pharmacies and are staffed by nurses and nurse practitioners. These clinics can be a good option if you need care outside of your regular doctor’s office hours. Retail clinics can generally:
- Provide vaccinations.
- Treat certain conditions, including colds and basic infections, such as ear infections and strep throat.
- Perform certain basic tests. Urgent care clinics have a doctor onsite. These clinics can provide the same services as the retail clinics and more. They can also:
- Give stitches.
- Treat fractures, strains and dislocations.
- Take X-rays.
- Provide intravenous (IV) fluids.
- Provide additional lab tests and other tests beyond those provided at retail clinics.
Emergency rooms offer the highest level of care and can perform a wide variety of tests. If you believe your condition is life-threatening, the emergency room is the place to go. You can also be admitted to the hospital from the emergency room, if necessary.
Which should you choose?
Although there are other choices for care, your primary physician is usually the best contact to help you choose where you should receive treatment. If you need to obtain medical care after normal office hours, your network primary care physician or his or her covering doctors are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, if you need emergency medical care, go directly to a hospital emergency room, or call 911 or your local emergency number.
Depending on your condition or illness, either a retail clinic or urgent care center could be a good option. The wait time in these clinics is generally less than in an emergency room and your out-of-pocket costs may be lower.
However, if you feel that your condition is serious enough to go to the emergency room, you do not need permission from your primary physician. According to the National Association for Ambulatory Care, you should go to the emergency room for the following conditions:
- Heart attack
- Severe bleeding
- Head injury or other major trauma
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Sudden loss of vision or blurred vision
Please remember to follow up with your primary physician after your emergency room visit.