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ER or Urgent care center: where should you go?

June 26, 2016 General Wellness

Making quick choices is tough, especially when you or someone in your family needs fast medical attention. When it comes to getting treatment for injury or illness, where should you be going: the urgent care center or the emergency room?

“Urgent care centers and emergency rooms both offer similar services, like x-rays and blood tests,” explains Bernadette Weis, nurse manager of the emergency department at Paoli Hospital. “But depending on your medical need, one facility might be a better option than the other.”

Although split-second decisions are typical in medical emergencies, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with what constitutes a trip to the urgent care or ER before you need to make the trip. Check out the lists below to see what facility is the right option in an emergency.

Urgent Care Centers are for accidents and illnesses that require a physician or nurse practitioner’s attention, but not a trip to the emergency department. Common conditions and treatments provided at an urgent care center include:

  • Minor cuts, lacerations and burns
  • Muscle aches, strains and sprains
  • Splints and stitches
  • Colds, viruses and the flu
  • Stomach ailments and respiratory illnesses
  • Strep throat, ear infections, and allergic reactions
  • Flu and tetanus shots; physicals for work, camp, sports and drivers’ licenses
  • X-Ray, EKG and laboratory services

"Urgent care centers provide an excellent quality of care for patients who need help for injuries and illnesses when most doctor's offices are typically closed," explains Christine Stallkamp, MD, director of urgent care for Main Line Health. "At the Main Line Health Center at Exton Square Mall, each patient who seeks urgent care is seen by a Main Line Health board-certified physician. Just because you're not in the ER doesn't mean you're getting a lesser quality of care."

Emergency Departments are for life-threatening conditions and symptoms like:

  • Heart attack
  • Major trauma
  • Numbness in the face, arm or leg
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Uncontrolled or excessive bleeding
  • Severe headache or burns
  • Poisoning
  • Behavioral emergencies, such as suicidal or homicidal feelings

Although urgent care centers can provide medical treatment, don’t take too long in determining where to go. While many patients' first thought might be to head to the emergency room, Dr. Stallkamp says the best thing to do is head to whatever is closest—urgent care center or emergency department.

"At the urgent care center inside Main Line Health Center at Exton Square Mall, we're fortunate that we have emergency rooms in close proximity, and great support from our system emergency departments at Lankenau Medical Center, Bryn Mawr, Paoli and Riddle hospitals. Those relationships with the emergency departments allow us to be able to transfer patients quickly if necessary," she says.

Main Line Health provides a variety of options for after-hours and emergency care, including urgent care centers at the Main Line Health Center in BroomallMain Line Health Center at Exton Square, and Main Line Health Center in Concordville, all of which have hours on nights, weekends and holidays. All four Main Line Health hospitals are home to emergency departments.