Where Should I Go for Care?

Here’s where to find care when your primary doctor isn't available

patient and doctor

For illnesses and injuries like ear pain, a cold, or a sprained ankle, most of us tend to associate urgent care as a go-to facility for quick treatment. But for more serious ailments, like a broken bone or foreign object in your eye, is the emergency room necessary? Not always. Here’s what you need to know about retail clinics, urgent care centers, and emergency rooms.

Scenario #1: You're experiencing diarrhea, an inability to hold down liquid or food, stomach cramps, and dehydration.
You should go to: Urgent care
Here's why: Doctors at your local urgent care center can determine if you've contracted food poisoning or a stomach bug, and treat you accordingly. They can also prescribe medicine to help you stop vomiting, if need be, and treat dehydration with IV fluids.

Scenario #2: You've been bitten by a dog or another animal, and you're bleeding and in pain.
You should go to: Urgent care
Here's why: Wounds can be cleaned and treated by doctors at an urgent care facility, and they can also check for damage to nerves or tendons and provide stitches if necessary. Doctors can also prescribe antibiotics and advise whether a rabies shot is necessary.

Scenario #3: A foreign object recently entered your eye and you've been blinking a lot since. You've flushed the eye out with water and tried to remove the object, but it's not budging.
You should go to: Urgent care
Here's why: Doctors at urgent care facilities are trained to remove foreign objects and can also inspect the eye to see if the cornea has been scratched or any other damage was sustained.

Scenario #4: You've got chest pain, shortness of breath, and are sweaty and nauseous. Although you think it could be a heart attack, someone you know experienced similar symptoms recently and it was only a panic attack.
You should go to: Emergency room
Here's why: Always assume chest pain could be a heart attack (even if it's simply indigestion or a panic attack) and treat the situation seriously. The best way to get to the ER is by ambulance, so call 911 instead of driving. An EMT can begin to treat you up to an hour sooner than when you'd be treated at the ER if you arrived by car, according to the American Heart Association.

Scenario #5: You've slipped on a wet floor and fell on your arm. It's now painful and swollen, and your fingers are feeling numb. You’re worried your wrist is broken.
You should go to: Urgent care
Here's why: At an urgent care facility, you can receive an X-ray to determine if your wrist is sprained or broken. If it's broken, you can be fitted with a cast. A sprain usually only requires a sling or bandage. Doctors can also prescribe prescription medication for pain, if needed.

Scenario #6: You need a vaccination before an overseas trip, and you can't get in to see your doctor for months.
You should go to: Retail clinic
Here's why: At a retail clinic, you can receive quick, convenient immunizations for a host of diseases, including many vaccinations required for overseas travel.