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Emergency vs. Urgent Care: Which to choose?

July 11, 2016
Urgent Care Northampton

“It’s a question we often hear asked, ‘Should I go to the emergency room or urgent care?’” says Dr. Richard Gerstein, chair of Emergency Medicine at Baystate Mary Lane Hospital.

“While emergency rooms are open 24-7 to care for the sick and injured, urgent care centers are continuing to become a popular alternative for some patients who want a fast and economical alternative to non-life threatening care of illnesses and injuries,” he added.

Economical in the form of lower co-pays for patients, often a difference as great as $50 compared to $200 depending on your insurance provider, and savings for the medical system as a whole. Fast in the sense that an emergency room sees the sickest patients first, while at an urgent care center it is usually first-come, first served.

Why visit an Urgent Care Center

A shortage of primary care physicians has fueled the increased use of urgent care centers for those who can’t get an appointment quick enough to see their doctor.

“At one time visiting the emergency room was their only option, now we can fill that void for patients. But, while we want to curb the overuse of emergency rooms, leaving them freed-up to treat only those patients with the most serious conditions….we don’t want to see the use of urgent care facilities take the place of visiting your family physician, either,” said Dr. Louis S. Strauss, medical director for Baystate Urgent Care.

“We know there are times when it just isn’t possible in today’s world to get in to see your primary care physician. That’s where we come in. But, we also want to preserve the patient’s relationship with their own physician who best understands their medical history and who can develop a treatment plan unique to them,” he added about follow-up care.

Illnesses or injuries appropriate for urgent care include:

• Colds, coughs, flu, fever, sore throat

• Upper respiratory problems/asthma

• Minor cuts or burns

• Rash, skin and eye infections

• Urinary tract infections (pain or burning when urinating)

• Earaches

• Migraine headaches

• Strains and sprains

• Stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting (check with the urgent care center beforehand to be sure they have the ability to administer IVs or run tests involving a CT scan, which may be needed for these symptoms)

• Minor animal bites.

The following conditions are best suited for emergency room care:

• High fevers, fevers with rash

• Inability to breathe, difficulty breathing

• Serious burns or large open wounds, bleeding that won’t stop, eye injuries

• Chest pains or others symptoms of a heart attack

• Head, spinal cord, or back injuries

• Sudden change in mental state, sudden severe headache, stroke symptoms

• Broken bones

• Abdominal pain or persistent vomiting and diarrhea

• Seizures

• Overdoses or suspected overdoses

• Significant falls, trauma, lacerations.

In a life-threatening emergency, don’t drive or risk further delays. Call 911 immediately in case of:

• Shortness of breath or trouble breathing

• Heart attack symptoms: chest pain, pain in the left arm or jaw, sudden weakness or dizziness

• Signs of a stroke: numbness, slurred speech, severe headache, weakness on one side of the face of body, or loss of consciousness

• Life or limb-threatening injury

• You should also call for help immediately if you find someone without a pulse or unconscious.

Baystate ER and Urgent Care facilities

Baystate Health offers urgent care at the following locations:

Baystate Urgent Care – Springfield, 3400 Main St., 413-794-9560; open Monday – Friday from 10 am to 8 pm, and on weekends and holidays from 9 am to 5 pm

Baystate Urgent Care – Northampton, 325 King St., 413-387-4100; open Monday – Friday from 10 am to 8 pm, and on weekends and holidays from 9 am to 5 pm

Baystate Urgent Care – Belchertown, 95 Sargent St., 413-323-5016; open Monday – Thursday from 7:30 am to 7 pm, Friday from 7:30 am to 5 pm, and Saturday from 8 am to noon

Baystate Urgent Care – Westfield, 57 Union St., 413-642-7200; open Monday – Friday from 8 am to 7 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm

Baystate Urgent Care – Feeding Hills, 24 North St., 413-831-7800; open Monday – Friday from 10 am to 7 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm

Emergency room care is available at all five Baystate Health hospitals: Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, Baystate Mary Lane Hospital in Ware, Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer, and Baystate Noble Hospital in Westfield.