When to Choose the ER

In a medical emergency, there are more choices than ever. If you think you are having a life-threatening emergency, the safest thing to do is to call 911. That way, trained professionals can begin treatment before you get to the hospital, and the hospital staff will be ready to take over as soon as you arrive.

A hospital-based emergency room (ER) has the highest level of resources available to treat serious medical problems, including surgery or admission to the hospital.

Neighborhood ERs that aren’t located in a hospital—freestanding ERs—can handle some emergencies, too, as long as you don’t need any high-level intervention or surgery, for instance.

An urgent care clinic is the place to go when you or your child has a condition that can’t wait until you can get into your doctor’s office, or it occurs after-hours but doesn’t require the high-level treatment found in an ER.

It’s important to know about insurance. Check your policy—coverage is likely to kick in if you reasonably think you’re having an emergency. The costs of care vary based on the level you need. Urgent care treatment is less costly than that found in an ER. At a freestanding ER, the cost will be about the same as at a hospital-based ER.

Recent news stories about people who have been surprised by bills for emergency care when they thought they were going to an urgent care center provide a cautionary note for anyone seeking care. Make sure you understand the capabilities of the facility you are visiting so you will get the right care when you need it.


Scott Miner, MD, 

Medical Director, Emergency Department,
Lutheran Medical Center

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