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How to know when to visit the ER vs. Urgent Care?

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How to know when to visit the ER vs. Urgent Care?

NEW ORLEANS -- It's a common question: How do you know when an emergency is really an emergency, requiring a visit to the Emergency Room, and how do you know when something can be treated with a quick trip to Urgent Care?

Not to mention, how has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted safety and operations in emergency rooms and urgent care offices?

First things first: At LCMC Health, we are following guidelines to keep you and our staff safe. This goes for emergency rooms and urgent care, and all areas of our hospitals and doctors' offices.

Even when things seem chaotic or abnormal, emergency workers know what to do. That's what they're trained for. We are continuously making plans behind the scenes to ensure adequate staffing and keep patients and workers safe. Bottom line: Things that required emergency care in the past, still require emergency care now.

Wait times and Online Check-in available at these LCMC Health ERs

Let's break it down:

ER vs. Urgent Care

Serious injuries require serious attention. Keep in mind, if you have a true emergency, like signs of a heart attack or stroke, or a serious cut or injury, don't hesitate to go to the emergency room. That's what it's there for. But when an injury or illness is less serious, where do you go for care?

Sprained ankle < Broken bone

  • Swelling and pain are signs of both, but numbness or tingling may mean something’s broken
  • A severe sprain or strain may need surgery or immobilization, followed by physical therapy. Mild sprains and strains may need rehab exercises and a change in activity during recovery.
  • Meanwhile, rest, ice, compression, and elevation (called RICE) usually will help minimize damage caused by sprains and strains. Start RICE right away after the injury.

LEARN MORE: Sprains, Strains, Breaks: What’s the difference?

illustration of a person with sprained ankle and person with broken bones

Rash or minor burn < Severe burn or bleeding

  • Bleeding that does not stop after 10 minutes of pressure calls for further attention and a trip to the ER.
  • Sometimes rashes can be more serious and require urgent treatment. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your dermatologist or go to the emergency room right away:
    • A rash that’s covering your entire body or spreading rapidly
    • Fever
    • Blistering
    • Yellow or green fluid, swelling, crusting, pain, or warmth where the rash is located
illustration of a person with minor bleeding next to a person with severe bleeding​​​​​

Fever or flu < Severe chest pain or difficulty breathing

  • Chest pain that feels like squeezing pressure or lasts longer than two minutes could be a heart attack. Classic symptoms of a heart attack include chest pain, chest tightness, and aches in the chest or arms that radiate to the neck or jaw. Some people may experience nausea, abdominal pain or even shortness of breath.
  • With a stroke, fast medical care is also critical. A stroke, or brain attack, happens when blood flow to your brain is stopped. It is an emergency situation. Call 911 if you think you might be having stroke or stroke symptoms.

The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients in order to work well. If blood supply is stopped even for a short time, this can cause problems. Brain cells begin to die after just a few minutes without blood or oxygen.

Stroke symptoms may happen suddenly. Each person’s symptoms may vary. Symptoms may include:

  • Weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg, usually on one side of the body
  • Having trouble speaking or understanding
  • Problems with vision, such as dimness or loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness or problems with balance or coordination
  • Problems with movement or walking
  • Fainting (loss of consciousness) or seizure
  • Severe headaches with no known cause, especially if they happen suddenly

Stung by a bee < Fall on a beehive

  • An insect sting occurs when an insect uses its stinger on you. The insect may be a bee, wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket. You may have an allergic reaction to the venom.
  • Stings can happen anywhere on the body. They can be painful and frightening. But most insect stings cause only minor discomfort. The site of the sting may sometimes become infected.
  • Some people who are allergic may have a severe reaction, which can be fatal. Throat swelling or difficulty breathing will require more than ice and ointment and warrant a visit to the nearest ER.

illustration of a person with a bee sting next to the person who has fallen on a beehive

Urgent Care

Urgent Care provides medical care for conditions that aren't an immediate, serious threat to life or health. They are not intended to provide emergency care. Think of them like a walk-in healthcare provider's office.

The biggest difference between an Urgent Care facility and a healthcare provider's office is that you can walk in without an appointment. Also, at an Urgent Care center, you probably won't see the same healthcare provider from a visit to visit.

When visiting an LCMC Health Urgent Care, your visit will be logged into your LCMC Health Patient Portal account as part of your ongoing medical history.

MORE: Schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, and chat with your doctor using LCMC Health Patient Portal

What about the kids?

Deciding when to call the pediatrician and when to take your sick or injured child to urgent care can be a tough call. Here is some helpful information that can help guide your actions.

When to call the pediatrician:

Some ailments, such as a simple cough or constipation, don’t usually require medical attention.

But call your child’s pediatrician if he or she has:

  • A fever of 100.4 degrees F (38 degrees C) or higher in a baby younger than 2 months old (using a rectal thermometer)
  • A rash, especially if your child also has a fever
  • A fever accompanied by repeated vomiting
  • Trouble swallowing or a severe sore throat
  • Sharp or constant pain in the stomach
  • Blood in the urine or bloody diarrhea
  • Vomiting and diarrhea lasting more than a few hours
  • A cough or cold that does not improve in several days, or a cold that gets worse and is accompanied by a fever
  • Discharge from the ear
  • Ear pain with a fever
  • An inability to sleep or drink
  • Limping or an inability to move an arm or leg

While this list is a helpful guide, follow your parenting instinct: If you feel something’s wrong, it’s worth a call to your child’s pediatrician.

Unhappy with your child's doctor? Find the best pediatrician for your family.

When to take your child to Urgent Care:

In cases of minor injury or illness, urgent care centers are a convenient choice. Consider visiting an urgent care center if your child has:

  • Minor cuts or burns
  • Sprains or broken bones
  • Flu symptoms
  • Poison ivy and insect bites
  • Mild, non-life-threatening allergic reactions

If your child is severely ill or injured, call 911 right away. Emergency signs include uncontrolled bleeding, seizures, trouble breathing, and unconsciousness.

Virtual Care is the new reality

This approach lets you consult a physician through live video chats. Treatment is provided for many common complaints. Advantages: Access to a doctor anywhere, anytime.

At LCMC Health, our secure, easy-to-use video technology connects you to your pediatrician or primary care provider and some specialists from the comfort and safety of home via phone, computer, or tablet.