What is the difference between Urgent Care and Emergency Department?

In the past, patients had the choice of going to the emergency department (ED) or waiting for their doctor’s clinic to open. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of urgent care (UC) clinics which divert some lower acuity patients out of the ED. Patients and insurers benefit from lower co-pays in UCs if they do not need the full complement of resources in the ED. However, not all UC clinics have the same resources. Some may have access to only simple tests like rapid strep or flu tests while others may have access to labs, x-rays, advanced imaging (ultrasound and CTs), and even consultation with specialists. 

Sometimes patients go to UC with complaints that may be better suited for the ED. It is not uncommon for a patient to present to the UC with chest pain.  Anxiety, musculoskeletal pain, and shingles are some of the common but non-life-threatening causes of chest pain.  But occasionally patients will present with a massive heart attack or blood clot.   The treating provider should determine if the patient has a high enough risk of having a life-threatening condition and transfer the patient if resources are not available. Please contact Dr. Zheng if you would like more information on this topic.