Urgent Care vs. Emergency Care: What's the Difference?

It’s Friday night when you start feeling sick. By Saturday afternoon, your throat hurts, you’re congested, and have a fever. Your primary care provider isn’t open until Monday, but you feel you need care now. 

You’re not sick enough to warrant going to the emergency department, so what do you do? 

If you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms, please call 911.

When to go to Urgent Care

Urgent care is a walk-in clinic ideal for basic illnesses or injuries, like conditions primary care doctors treat. Urgent care is intended to be convenient, with typically short wait times available outside of regular primary care office hours, like on evenings and weekends. 

They are intended for non-emergency situations. Doctors can prescribe medication to treat what brings a patient in. They are equipped to suture wounds, perform basic tests, and can even provide vaccinations. Some urgent care locations can perform X-rays, CT scans, and more. 

Wake Forest Baptist allows you to view current wait times at our urgent care locations and reserve your spot online. 

Injuries & Illnesses Treated at Urgent Care 

You should seek care at an urgent care facility when experiencing:

  • Cold symptoms - headache, cough, congestion
  • Flu symptoms
  • Vomiting/fever
  • Ear infection
  • Minor injuries
  • Animal/insect bites
  • Sunburn
  • Minor strains/sprains
  • Minor bone fractures
  • Sports physicals

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When to go to the Emergency Room

Emergency departments are for emergency situations, one’s that can result in the loss of a limb or life. Most are open 24 hours a day, on weekends, and even on holidays - accepting those with life-threatening conditions around the clock. Appointments cannot be made and spots can’t be reserved. While ERs work to keep their wait times low, they are typically longer than urgent care wait times. ERs see patients based on how urgent a case is, so their queues can be in constant flux. 

Visits to the emergency room are more expensive than visiting an urgent care clinic. Insurance coverage can get tricky with ERs. If insurance networks may deem that your visit to the emergency room was not an emergency, they may not cover any of the costs. At urgent care clinics, copays are available depending on the insurance networks the clinic accepts. 

Signs You Should Go to the ER 

If you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department.

You should seek emergency care when experiencing:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Serious trauma
  • Severe burns
  • Broken bones
  • Seizures
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting that is severe and continues for several hours
  • Poisoning
  • Deep cuts and abrasions where bleeding is uncontrollable
  • Pregnancy-related medical conditions

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The Difference Between Urgent Care and Emergency Care

The difference between urgent care and emergency care is the severity of the conditions they treat, opening hours, typical wait times, and cost. Urgent care doesn’t accept emergency situations. Emergency departments are open 24 hours. Urgent care clinics have shorter wait times and cost less with more likelihood for insurance coverage. 

Wake Forest Baptist Health has You Covered

Don’t wait until you are in an emergency situation to learn the difference between care options and the locations in your neighborhood. Find the closest North Carolina urgent care clinic or emergency room in your area. Discover the Wake Forest Baptist Health urgent care locations near you.