When Should I Go to the Emergency Room?

During a medical emergency, it can be easy to jump to the conclusion that you need to go to the emergency room (ER), but that isn’t always the case. Fortunately, there is a set of criteria agreed upon by most health care professionals that can help you decide whether your medical issue calls for an emergency room visit or a trip to your primary care doctor or local urgent care practice instead.

Why Do People Visit the Emergency Room?

According to Carenet Health Insurance, in a recent study, less than half of the respondents correctly selected urgent care versus ER as the appropriate choice for a child with a 104-degree fever who is shivering and coughing. Many people believe that a medical condition with a rapid onset or severe symptoms always requires an emergency room visit, but that is not the case. 

When Should I Visit the ER?

Reasons to head to the ER include symptoms of heart attack and/or stroke, severe bleeding that you cannot control, trauma to the head and anaphylaxis. This is not an exhaustive list, but a good rule of thumb says that if your condition will lead to loss of life or limb without immediate medical care, it is best to opt for the emergency room. Columbus Regional Healthcare System explains that bone fractures and high fevers may seem like reasons to go to the emergency room, but depending on the capabilities of your local urgent care, an ER visit is not necessary in many cases. 

Where Should I Go Instead?

If your condition doesn’t warrant an emergency room visit but you do need assistance, you can visit your primary care doctor or a local clinic or urgent care practice. Don’t assume that just because you want to be seen the same day that your doctor or clinic cannot or will not make that happen for you. There is always the possibility that they can either squeeze you in or have a slot to fill because of a last-minute cancellation, so always call to check in. Care Spot says that urgent cares are also an option if your need for care is more pressing and you don’t have time to call ahead. As mentioned previously, some urgent cares can even treat broken bones.

Unfortunately, not every medical situation fits perfectly into a checklist, which leads to confusion, fear and misuse of emergency rooms. However, these tips can help you understand what an ER does and what they are for so that you can contribute less to this misuse.

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Simon Greenberg

Simon is a health tech enthusiast who believes information technology can bring major improvements in healthcare cost and quality. He is currently working on ways to improve how we can connect and interact with our healthcare system. You can find him on and .

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