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How to Decide Where to Seek Care When You Just Can’t Wait

Injury or illness can occur, and when they do, you may be uncertain about where to go for care, especially if symptoms are severe or painful and your primary doctor’s medical office is closed. Knowing the difference between urgent care, emergency care, calling 911 and where to seek treatment could prove lifesaving in a medical emergency.

The difference between urgent care and the ER

There are distinct differences between a hospital emergency room and urgent care in the level of care provided. Urgent care is appropriate when you become sick or have a minor injury and your primary care provider is not available or you cannot wait for an appointment. Emergency care is appropriate for medical conditions that need rapid or advanced treatments that are only available in a hospital setting.

Getting the right care, at the right time, at the lowest cost

Your primary care specialist offers appointments during business hours, and specializes in treating ailments like the cold or flu, provides annual physical exams and vaccinations to keep you healthy and manage your overall wellness, as well as diagnose and manage chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Your out-of-pocket costs are lower than an emergency room visit, and you will have the shortest in-office wait time because your appointment is scheduled ahead of time.

Urgent care offers appointments beyond business hours, weekends, and holidays. It is appropriate to visit an urgent care if your illness or injury is not life-threatening. Your out-of-pocket costs are lower than an emergency room visit. Your wait time at urgent care will vary, depending on the number of people who have arrived before you for treatment. Hospital emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An emergency room visit has a higher cost than primary care or urgent care visits due to the level of care provided. Out-of-pocket costs will vary based on each insurance plan.

Medical emergencies are those that require rapid or advanced treatments only available in a hospital. Symptoms that are best evaluated in an emergency room include, but are not limited to: any severe or life-threatening conditions, abdominal pain, acute changes in vision, chest pain, confusion or disorientation, coughing blood, loss of consciousness, overdoses, seizures, severe allergic reactions, severe burns, shortness of breath, stroke, trauma, or uncontrolled bleeding. If your personal instinct or intuition tells you it’s serious, don’t hesitate – go to the nearest emergency room.

When to call 911

Even if it’s clear you or a loved one needs emergency care, you may be unsure of when to call 911. A medical emergency is an event that threatens a life – when immediate medical care is needed to prevent death or serious impairment of health. For certain medical emergencies, such as heart attack or stroke, calling 911 for an ambulance is the right decision because EMTs and paramedics can deliver life-saving treatment on the way to the hospital. If you are uncertain, err on the side of caution and call 911. The trained dispatcher will advise you.

Be prepared

Whether you are going to schedule an appointment or going to urgent care or the ER, it’s a good idea to bring a list of your medications, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements. The list should include how much of each medication you take and how often you take it. Prevea provides a free downloadable guide to getting the right care at the right time at, located at the bottom of the page in the “key services” box.

Stacie Zais, APNP, FNP-C, is a Prevea Health nurse practitioner, seeing patients for urgent care visits at Prevea Altoona Medical Office Building and Prevea Chippewa Falls Health Center. Prevea Health is a community partner of Chippewa Valley Family magazine. To make an urgent care appointment at Prevea location in Altoona, Chippewa Falls, Menomonie (opening Jan. 13) or Rice Lake, call (888) 277-3832 or visit

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