Finding the Right Care When You Need It

If you or your loved ones get sick or injured, where should you turn?

You’re sick and you need medical care. When you have a true health emergency, you should go to your local emergency room or call 911. But if it’s not an emergency, or you’re not sure, then what? If your doctor is not available, you still have a lot of choices for care. Learn about your options so you can make the right choice — and save time and money.

Convenient care or retail clinics

These can be a good choice if your condition is not an emergency. Such clinics are located in retail stores and provide walk-in health care for minor illnesses or injuries such as:

  • Colds and mild flu
  • Ear infections
  • Minor first aid, such as blisters and sunburn
  • Sinus infections
  • Mild allergies, such as hay fever
  • Skin rashes
  • Pink eye
  • Sore throat
  • Bronchitis

Urgent care

Urgent care facilities have walk-in services, often including evenings and weekends. An urgent care center may be a good choice when you do not need the level of care provided in an emergency department, but may need urgent treatment before you can see your primary care physician. Common issues treated at urgent care centers include:

  • Flu
  • Fever
  • Earaches
  • Nausea
  • Rashes
  • Minor bone fractures, sprains and strains
  • Minor cuts that require stitches

Emergency departments (EDs)

Medical emergencies should be seen at an emergency department. They are equipped to handle true emergencies. EDs are open all day, every day for any type of injury or illness. Treatment in an emergency department is not meant for minor conditions or routine medical care. Common signs and symptoms of true emergencies include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Large open wounds
  • Sudden or severe pain
  • Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Severe headache

Certain symptoms, including chest pain, sudden weakness, difficulty speaking, confusion or change in vision require immediate attention. These symptoms may indicate you are having a life-threatening emergency. Call 911 immediately.

Please keep in mind: Trips to the convenient care clinics, online consultations, urgent care centers and EDs are not meant to replace regular visits with your primary doctor.

By Kristin Nelson, Contributing Writer


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke signs and symptoms. Accessed March 8, 2019.
American College of Emergency Physicians. Urgent care. Accessed March 8, 2019.
Medline Plus. When to use the emergency room. Accessed March 8, 2019.

Updated March 13, 2019