RALEIGH, N.C. — When you or your child are sick or injured, getting medical treatment quickly is always important. The question is: is it urgent or an emergency?
Many people may not understand the difference between urgent care centers and hospital emergency rooms. Choosing the right one when you need it could save time, money, and maybe, your life.
Four-year-old Aubrey Lee and her parents had a rough couple of days and nights that led them to WakeMed's pediatric emergency room.
"She was dehydrated and we brought her in because, I mean, she wasn't eating, couldn't hold anything down. Everything she ate, it came up," mom Heather Lee said.
Aubrey's condition was an emergency that required intravenous fluids.
However, many patients who crowd hospital emergency rooms have problems that could be treated at an urgent care center.
That is where Lee went when she had a migraine headache.
"I couldn't get in to my doctor right away. I chose to go there because I could get in, get seen and get home. And I got relief," she said.
If Lee had chosen an emergency room for what she knew was a migraine headache, she could have been in for a long wait behind others with more serious problems.
Urgent care centers specialize in treating illnesses and injuries that are not life-threatening, but still need quick relief.
"Certainly, if it's something that a patient can be seen in their primary care office, that's probably the best option for them financially and conveniencewise, initially," said Dr. Courtney Mann, director of WakeMed's pediatric emergency room.
Examples of emergency cases are seizures, severe chest pain, severe bleeding or a serious eye injury. Urgent care cases may be a urinary tract infection, an earache, sinus infection or an ankle sprain.
If the problem is serious enough, urgent care staff should refer patients to the nearest emergency center.
It was an obvious choice for the Lees and one that worked.
Some insurers require a higher patient copay for emergency room visits versus an urgent care center or a primary care physician.