When to Go to the Emergency Room vs. an After Hours Center or Urgent Care Center

Where do you go when you or a loved one is sick or injured - and your doctor’s office is closed? Knowing the difference between a hospital emergency room and after-hours center or urgent care center is important for everyone.

What is an Urgent Care Center?

Urgent care centers and after hours centers are conveniently located in most communities. These centers are usually open during the day and evenings during the week and weekends.

These centers offer diagnosis and treatment for minor illnesses and injuries that you would usually see your doctor for, including:

  • Colds and flu
  • Earaches
  • Fevers
  • Headaches
  • Minor injuries, cuts and bruises
  • Minor back pain
  • Sinus infection
  • Sprains and strains
  • Skin rashes and infections
  • Sore throat and cough
  • Stomach ailments
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Other minor illnesses and injuries

Sometimes you are referred to the emergency room for more serious injuries or conditions.

What is an Emergency Room?

An emergency room, or ER, is a department associated with hospitals and is generally located within the hospital facility. Open 24 hours, seven days a week, ERs have a broad range of services. Not only do they offer many diagnostic tests, but highly trained specialists are available to evaluate patients, read test results and recommend treatment for serious or complex issues. If you have a life-threatening condition such as a stroke, heart attack, broken limb or raging fever and infection, the ER can provide proper medical care. However, be prepared to wait to be seen at the ER, as many other people may be there for similar serious conditions.

Where Should You Go for Medical Treatment?

If you or a loved one suffers from cold symptoms, low-grade fever, skin irritation, sore throat, irritated eyes, earache, stomachache or flu, you may want to go to an after-hours clinic. Always call your doctor first, and if unavailable, seek treatment at these convenient medical centers.

If you or a loved one has the following symptoms, go straight to an emergency room or call 911. These symptoms indicate a more serious, even life-threatening, condition may be happening:

  • Changes in mental state or confusion
  • Severe pain in the abdomen or halfway down the back
  • Trouble breathing
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Newborn baby with a high fever
  • Persistent chest pain
  • Severe heart palpitations
  • Sudden loss of balance or fainting
  • Sudden weakness on one side of the face or body
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy

Be Prepared for a Medical Emergency

Take time to locate the closest after hours center, urgent care center and hospital emergency room before you or a loved one has a medical emergency. This way, when you wake up with a high fever or chest pains or a child has a sore throat, you can figure out which medical center you should go to.

Also, make sure you have a list of all medications you and family members take, along with the names and numbers of your regular physicians. If there are allergies in the family, be sure to know this information. Also, have up-to-date medical insurance cards with you always to help speed treatment at the after hours center, urgent care center or hospital emergency room.

The Pediatric After Hours Center at The Queen’s Medical Center-West Oahu in Ewa Beach treats children’s minor illnesses and injuries. In early 2018, the center will become the Family After Hours Center—treating both adults and children of all ages. Learn more