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Urgency vs. Emergency: How to Tell Injuries Apart

Experts advise understanding what urgent care centers are located in your area, and how you can expedite your wait time. (Erik/flickr)
Experts advise understanding what urgent care centers are located in your area, and how you can expedite your wait time. (Erik/flickr)
December 28, 2017

RALEIGH, N.C. — During the holiday season, it's not uncommon for illnesses or injuries to add stress to gatherings and time at home. Physicians say the winter holidays are the busiest times for medical emergencies. But not all emergencies are the same.

If a situation is life-threatening, it's best to call 911. But emergency room Doctor Jennifer Johnson said if you or your child has a problem after hours that you would likely take to your regular doctor, an urgent care center should be able to manage.

"Run-of-the-mill things like fever and vomiting and diarrhea and ear infection,” Johnson said. “Or maybe they are worried that their child has flu, or a mild asthma attack; also mild injuries, things where perhaps you think it's a sprained ankle."

Johnson said a careful assessment of your feelings is critical when making a decision. Some clear examples of needing an emergency room include severe burns, swallowed objects, unstoppable bleeding, head injuries and loss of consciousness.

Johnson said it's also good to have a family emergency plan in place for situations, such as a broken bone, that are definite contenders for emergency care.

"If you're kind of wondering, 'Do I call 911, or do I just put him in my car to get him there fast?' If that's your line of thinking, you're better off going to the emergency room,” Johnson said.

She said knowledge of both ER and urgent care options can help cut down on wait times, too. Some hospital systems have online estimates of wait times, or are even able to secure a place in line for you before you leave the house.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC