​Should you go to an Urgent Care Center or the Emergency Room?

Medical problems can happen to anyone, anytime—and they often strike during the evening or weekend, when your regular doctor’s office is closed. In these situations, it’s natural to feel unsure about where to seek care, especially if your symptoms worry you.

The Christ Hospital Health Network offers two options for people who want (or need) to be treated right away: urgent care and emergency care. Knowing the differences between these options and choosing wisely can save you time and money. And in a true medical emergency, knowing where to go for treatment could save your life. 

Urgent care versus emergency care

The terms “urgent care” and “emergency care” both imply a need for rapid medical attention. However, these terms are not interchangeable. They refer to two different levels of care and preparedness.

Think of urgent care centers as an extension of your primary care doctor’s office. They’re places you can get care for mild illnesses or minor injuries when your doctor isn’t available—and you don’t want to wait until morning or Monday.

Emergency rooms (ERs) are equipped to provide life- and limb-saving care for the most serious illnesses and injuries. They offer advanced services and treatments that are only available in a hospital setting, such as operating rooms and intensive care units. 

For many people with health insurance, urgent care visits have a lower co-pay than ER visits. But keep in mind that urgent care centers are not set up to handle medical emergencies.

When to go to an urgent care center

If you develop symptoms that you’d normally discuss with your primary care doctor, chances are you don’t need to visit the ER. At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our urgent care specialists treat most routine illnesses and injuries. These include:

  • Coughs, colds and other upper respiratory problems

  • Dehydration

  • Ear pain

  • Eye redness or discharge

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Mild allergic reactions or asthma attacks

  • Painful urination

  • Rashes without fever

  • Small cuts, bumps or abrasions

  • Sore throats

  • Sprains and strains

  • Vomiting, diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms

We offer urgent care services seven days a week at our clinics in Fort Wright, Kentucky, and off Red Bank Expressway in Cincinnati.

When to go to the ER

Some medical problems need be treated right away to prevent disability or death. Head straight to the ER or call 9-1-1 if you suddenly experience any of these symptoms or injuries:

  • Balance problems, dizziness or loss of coordination 

  • Broken bones or dislocated joints

  • Concussion or other head injuries

  • Confusion

  • Chest pain or pressure 

  • Deep wounds

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath 

  • Rash with high fever

  • Seizures

  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea 

  • Severe pain 

  • Trouble speaking or understanding speech 

  • Uncontrolled bleeding 

  • Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy

  • Vomiting or coughing up blood 

  • Weakness or paralysis in an arm, leg or the face 

For your convenience, The Christ Hospital Health Network offers emergency care at two locations in Greater Cincinnati.

When to call 9-1-1

Sometimes it’s obvious that you need to go to the ER. But driving yourself there isn’t always the safest option. Call 9-1-1 instead of getting behind the wheel if you:

  • Have chest pain 

  • Had a seizure

  • Have trouble seeing

  • Feel like you might faint

  • Have trouble breathing

  • Are bleeding heavily

Calling 9-1-1 helps ensure you make it to the ER, even if you lose consciousness. And in some cases, paramedics will begin treatment in the ambulance, before you even reach the hospital.