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Urgent Care or the Emergency Department?

Dr. Bill Schneider is the medical director of the pediatric emergency department at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center. His office can be reached at (602) 865-3863. 

Question: It’s not always certain whether to go to an urgent care center or emergency department for certain injuries or illnesses. What should people know when deciding where to receive care?

Answer: Choosing the best place to receive care may not always be clear. Knowing what urgent care centers and emergency departments are designed to do may help when making such a decision.

The scope and extent of urgent care services may vary some from location to location, but urgent care centers, much like a doctor’s office, are effective in treating ‘coughs, colds, and sore throats.’ This includes minor illnesses and injuries, such as sore throats, coughs, earaches, simple allergic reactions, pinkeye, rashes, insect bites, sprains, abrasions, and a variety of other non-threatening medical needs. The convenience of numerous locations, shorter wait times, and less expensive co-pays or care costs (when compared to the ER) are additional advantages of urgent care facilities. 

More serious injuries or medical conditions should be seen in an emergency department. Head injuries, broken bones, lacerations, animal bites, serious burns, chest pain, abdominal pain, neurological symptoms, poisonings, severe headaches, dehydration, loss of consciousness, difficulty breathing, and a host of other serious medical concerns are best treated in the ER. Further, children under the age of 6 months with a fever should be seen in the ER because they are at a higher risk for serious bacterial infections.

Parents or patients confused about where to go for care should first call their primary care doctor’s office for advice. Calling a nearby urgent care center to inquire what services they provide is also a good idea. If all else fails, emergency departments are well-equipped to care for nearly any condition. At Banner Thunderbird Medical Center we are proud of our capability to take care of virtually any adult or pediatric medical condition that may arise.

Let me end by saying that it’s important for people to understand that neither urgent care centers nor the ER should take the place of a primary care doctor or private physician. Urgent care and emergency departments are designed to focus on acute events, not for routine care or managing chronic health issues.

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