Articles all over the internet are giving advice to patients about deciding whether they should go to an urgent care facility or an emergency department and they completely miss the mark. These articles suggest patients go to an urgent care facility for an anxiety attack and to save the emergency department for serious conditions such as chest pain.
What these articles miss is that anxiety attacks often present with chest pain. Patients don’t always know they’re having an anxiety attack versus a heart attack versus acid reflux versus costochondriits (inflamed cartilage of the ribs) versus pleurisy. All they know is they’re having pain and they don’t know what it is. If they had the medical education and means to self diagnose, they would. But many patients can’t and telling someone not to go to the emergency room based on a self diagnosis doesn't help.
Here’s some good advice—if you want the highest level of care, go to the emergency department. If you’re fine with a lower level of care, go to the urgent care facility. Remember, you get what you pay for. Higher level of care is going to be more expensive. If you feel like you’re seriously ill, don’t you think you might need it?
There are conditions requiring hospitalization and maybe surgery for just about any common and mild symptom most people won’t even seek medical care for.
- Sore throat? It could be a pharyngeal abscess.
- Headache? It could be meningitis.
- Sore muscle? It could be rhabdomyolysis.
- Back pain? It could be an epidural abscess.
Health care professionals can tell you whether or not what you have is serious or not after examining you. They can’t tell you over the phone and an internet article is not going to be able to tell you what level of care you need.
Use your common sense. If you’re scared that you have a serious condition, go to the emergency department. If you aren't worried but know you need some care, go to the urgent care facility.
If you go to urgent care and need a higher level of care, any good facility will tell you to go to the emergency department. You can always ask for copies of laboratory reports and x-rays to show the emergency room physician if you want to save some money. If you really need a high level of care, chances are that you aren't going to worry about cost.
The bottom line is that you know what you need. You know if your pain isn't usual for you. You know if you've got some illness that you just aren't kicking. You know if your child isn't acting quite right. A random person who wrote up a generic article six months ago based on a self diagnosis doesn't.