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When to use the emergency room - adult

Whenever an illness or injury occurs, you need to decide how serious it is and how soon to get medical care. This will help you choose whether it is best to:

It pays to think about the right place to go. Treatment in an emergency department can cost 2 to 3 times more than the same care in your provider's office. Think about this and the other issues listed below when deciding.

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Signs of an Emergency

How quickly do you need care? If a person or unborn baby could die or be permanently disabled, it is an emergency.

Call 911 to have the emergency team come to you right away if you cannot wait, such as for:

Go to an emergency department or call 911 for help for problems such as:

When to Go to an Urgent Care Clinic

When you have a problem, do not wait too long to get medical care. If your problem is not life threatening or risking disability, but you are concerned and you cannot see your provider soon enough, go to an urgent care clinic.

The kinds of problems an urgent care clinic can deal with include:

If You Are Not Sure, Talk to Someone

If you are not sure what to do, and you don't have one of the serious conditions listed above, call your provider. If the office is not open, your phone call may be forwarded to someone. Describe your symptoms to the provider who answers your call, and find out what you should do.

Your provider or health insurance company may also offer a nurse telephone advice hotline. Call this number and tell the nurse your symptoms for advice on what to do.

Prepare Now

Before you have a medical problem, learn what your choices are. Check the website of your health insurance company. Put these telephone numbers in the memory of your phone:

References

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. How To Use Hospital Emergency Rooms Wisely. Updated August 2008. www.ahrq.gov/news/columns/navigating-the-health-care-system/081908.html. Accessed November 3, 2016.

American College of Emergency Physicians. Urgent Care Fact Sheet. newsroom.acep.org/fact_sheets?item=30033. Accessed November 3, 2016.

FAIR Health. Emergency Care and Urgent Care. fairhealthconsumer.org/reimbursementseries.php?terms=emergency-care-and-urgent-care. Accessed November 3, 2016.

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Review Date: 9/3/2016  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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