This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

What do you do when the “unexpected” happens and you or a loved one need immediate medical care outside of your primary care physicians’ normal business hours?  Where should you go?  The Emergency Room at the nearest hospital – or a local Urgent Care clinic? Studies show greater than 40% of patients will go to the Emergency Room for non-emergent medical assistance – that could be treated elsewhere.

Knowing the difference between urgent care and emergency care and where to seek treatment could make a significant difference in how your needs are met.

Emergency departments specialize in initial treatment of acute illnesses and injuries, some of which may be life threatening and/or require immediate medical attention.  A good rule to follow is if you feel like your “life or limb” is in danger, you should immediately go to the nearest emergency room.

Emergency Departments experience high wait times because patients are treated based on the severity of their illness or injury, not who came in first. Great if you are having chest pains, not so much if you have an earache. Another distinguishing comparison is cost.  On average, an Emergency Department visit is approximately 30-50% more costly than a doctor’s office or Urgent Care visit.  In the event of a true emergency, the extensive services offered in an Emergency Department, along with the fact that they are open 24/7, is priceless – cost should never be considered in the case of true medical emergency.

An alternative is going to an Urgent Care clinic.  Urgent Care clinics are walk-in medical facilities that provide medical care on a no-appointment basis and are generally open for extended hours, including nights and weekends.  Urgent Care clinics are a cost-effective alternative for the treatment of non-life-threatening medical conditions.  Some clinics provide basic laboratory and X-ray services and can perform some diagnostic tests.

Situations appropriate for an Urgent Care include: minor injury, sprains, burns, animal bites, flu, fevers, earache, cold, sinus and urinary symptoms, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, flare up of chronic medical conditions and school and/or employment physicals.

Become familiar with the Urgent Cares in your area. Choose an Urgent Care associated with a hospital or large health care network and one staffed with board certified physicians.  Choose an Urgent Care/ Family Medicine clinic as they most often have significantly lower co-pays for those with private insurance and often offer generous discounts to patients who are uninsured. Wait times are generally lower in comparison to the Emergency Department and the cost of care at Urgent Care Clinics can be significantly lower.

When in doubt about the seriousness of an emergency, call 911 and/or get to an Emergency Department as quickly as possible.  If you are not experiencing a true emergency, it is strongly recommended you utilize your primary doctor’s office and/or Urgent Care clinic.

Expecting the unexpected and understanding your options before you need them, can save you time, money and in some cases, your life.

Michelle Harrison, RN, is the Practice Clinical Manager at Regional Physicians Urgent Care/Family Medicine Clinics. All Regional Physician Urgent Care/Family Medicine clinics have board certified physicians on site and offer lower co-pays with their Family Medicine designation – with three locations conveniently located on Westchester in High Point, Eastchester in North High Point and in Jamestown. For more information on these locations or other Regional Physician offices, please call, (336) 878 MD4U (6348) or visit

Do you have a question for our Health Experts at High Point Regional that you would like answered in our monthly health segment in the High Point Enterprise? Email your health related questions to  with “What’s Up Doc” in the subject line and your question could be chosen to be addressed in our next monthly health segment.