Emergency room or urgent care: Making the right call for your health

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Life happens. You sprain your ankle playing soccer with friends. Your partner slices a finger on a kitchen knife. Your child runs a high fever. In the moment, and sometimes under stressful conditions, it can be hard to make that quick decision whether to head for the emergency room (ER) or to stop into an urgent care center in your neighborhood.

It's good to know in advance what a true medical emergency is vs. what can be handled at an urgent care location.

If you believe you have a life-threatening emergency or need emergency care, call 911 now.

When should you go to urgent care?

Needing urgent care is not the same as needing emergency medical attention. Urgent care is an option when you have an immediate need but cannot get in to see your primary care doctor on the same day. Examples of when you might need urgent care include:

  • Having a high fever (but no rash)
  • Having ear pain
  • Having pain when urinating
  • Having the flu or flu-like symptoms
  • Having an infection

You can also head to an urgent care center when you're having an allergic skin reaction or you've got a shallow cut that needs more than a Band-Aid. Urgent care centers also help with a sprained wrist or ankle, and can even check for fracture (many have on-site X-ray capabilities). If you have a broken limb showing through the skin, however, you must get to the emergency room right away.

You can also use urgent care when you already know the diagnosis, such as you're having recognizable symptoms associated with a familiar condition, like a urinary tract infection.

Urgent care centers are located at:

We also offer extended outpatient care in Wynnewood, for patients needing medical tests, treatments and services not available at your doctor's office or our urgent care locations. Virtual urgent care visits are also available through your Main Line Health MyChart account.

When should you go to the ER?

Many of us tend to downplay symptoms and may even want to avoid "making a fuss" when in fact we need emergency attention. If you are experiencing any of the following situations, do not wait it out. Waiting could cost you — a lost limb, loss of vision, worsening of your condition, increased risk of infection, damage to your brain and any number of reasons to get yourself to an ER right away.

  • Sudden loss of balance or fainting
  • Sudden difficulty speaking or comprehending
  • Sudden extreme pain, especially in the abdomen
  • Sudden change in vision
  • Testicular pain

You should also get to the ER when you have:

Other reasons to go to the ER include:

  • A deep cut that needs stitches
  • A high fever that's accompanied by a rash
  • Serious burns
  • Traumatic injury from a car accident
  • Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy

Seizures, broken limbs that break the skin, vomiting or diarrhea that is persistent (won't stop and lasts for long period of time) are also good reasons to get to an emergency room.

Main Line Health has emergency rooms at all four of its acute care hospitals:

When should you go to your primary care physician?

Your primary care doctor is the first person to turn to for ongoing care and oversight of your health. Calling him or her is the initial step in receiving a personalized plan of care for your specific needs. This includes when you are feeling unwell. They can advise you on how best to seek care. Keep in mind that your usual health screenings, such as mammograms and care for chronic conditions like diabetes, are prescribed and directed by your primary care physician. An urgent care center does not provide blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, immunizations and prescription refills.

Next steps:

Learn more about Main Line Health urgent care centers
Schedule a virtual urgent care appointment with MyChart
Find a Main Line Health urgent care center near you

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