We are lucky. We live in a time that medical attention is literally right around the corner.  Depending on your city there is usually a few emergency rooms if the situation requires it.  There are those times when you just want your sore throat looked at and cannot get an appointment with your doctor. Urgent cares have popped up all over just for those occasions.  They have helped take the pressure off of Emergency departments (ED) but some times the ED is still the best place to go.

I am a registered nurse who works in a very busy Urgent Care in Idaho.  We see our fair share of sore throats, coughs and lacerations.  All of which were in the right place. Some people, however, get sent on their way, fast.

In the urgent care I work at we send 5-10 people a day to the emergency room for anything from chest pain to dehydration.  Some of these patients really didn’t think that they needed to go and some were very obvious.

Let me start by telling you what most urgent cares CAN do. They can test for strep throat, urinary tract infections, flu, limited blood work (to check for dehydration), look at a rash, x-ray a possible broken bone, easy difficulty breathing (only if it is related to a cold or coughing fits. If it is in an elderly or young kiddo the ED is best), and can prescribe antibiotics when needed and a LIMITED number of pain medications when needed (just to get you through until you can following up with your doctor). We see fevers, food poisoning, walking pneumonia, sinus infections, lacerations (as long as the bleeding is controlled and the body part is still in working order), fractured bones (only if it is NOT displaced, meaning it is not deformed), and possible concussions (if the patient is not actively vomiting and has a memory before and after the accident).  Of course we see much more than this, just not on a regular basis.

Here is what most urgent cares are NOT equipped to handle: Chest pain, possible stroke, displaced fractures, some abdominal pain (especially if it is in the lower right side of your abdomen), mental changes in any age, extreme shortness of breath, amputation, displaced closed or open fractures, or anything else that seems like it would need a specialist called in. The ED is the best place to be seen for this or any other life threatening illness or accident. They have the support staff to handle harder situations and can do all the imaging and testing needed to determine the best treatment possible.

Here is a list (if you are a list person):

YES to the urgent care:

-sore throat



-flu-like symptoms

-urinary or bladder infections

-sinus pressure and pain

-possible STD







**Anything thing else that you think is “minor”.

YES to the Emergency room:

-Chest pain

-Possible stroke

-bloody stools or vomit

-displaced fractures

-mental changes

-extreme abdominal pain

**Anything else that you would consider “major to life threatening”.

Always call an ambulance in these cases:

-Sudden onset of chest pain

-Sudden onset of slurred speech or decreased motion on one side of the body.

—Profuse bleeding from any body part.

**Anything you think needs immediate attention.

I hope this helps to clarify any questions.  The main point I am trying to make is that if you think it is life threatening, take yourself to the emergency room.  It is better to be safe than sorry!

*Disclaimer-  This article in no way is intended to replace any medical advice given by your own primary care provider. I am writing from personal experience and not as your health care provider. I am not a medical doctor.