Choosing Where to Get Care: ER vs. Urgent Care or the Doctor’s Office

Woman on couch sick with blanket

Learn how to choose the best option between the emergency room versus urgent care or the doctor’s office.

It can be hard to decide where to get care when you’re sick and need to see the doctor. Is it serious enough for an emergency room (ER) visit, or should you wait for a doctor’s appointment? Where does urgent care fit in?

As Vermont’s only local, non-profit health plan, we provide advice you can trust to help you navigate the health care system. In this article, we offer tips for deciding when you should go to urgent care or your doctor’s office instead of the hospital emergency room.

Non-Emergency Care

An urgent care clinic or doctor’s office may be your best option if your symptoms aren’t life-threatening. Vermont’s hospital emergency rooms can be overcrowded, and you may have a long wait if your symptoms aren’t severe. 

When to go to urgent care

A provider may see you more quickly at an urgent care clinic versus the ER. And your wallet will thank you— typically, urgent care costs less than the emergency room. 

Additionally, many urgent care facilities now offer imaging and testing that rival a hospital's options. Urgent care clinics can treat:

  • Small cuts that may need stitches
  • Minor fractures and sprains
  • Flu or cold
  • Sore throat
  • Urinary tract infection (consider the emergency department if the visit is for your child under 4 years old)
  • Abdominal pain, as well as nausea, vomiting, stomach flu, and diarrhea
  • Sinus or ear infections

When to visit your primary care physician

If you fall ill on a weekday, consider calling your doctor’s office. It’s usually better to see your doctor than visit an urgent care clinic, especially if you have a chronic condition. Your doctor knows your medical history and may provide more efficient care.

Plus, a doctor’s office visit is generally less expensive than a trip to urgent care — and you may be able to make a same-day or next-day appointment. You can search for a primary care doctor on our website.

You may be able to visit with your doctor via telemedicine, though there is a limit to conditions they’re able to treat without seeing you in person. Your doctor’s office is the perfect place to treat symptoms such as:

  • Sprains
  • Flu or cold*
  • Sore throat*
  • Urinary tract infection*
  • Abdominal pain (nausea, vomiting, stomach flu, and diarrhea)*
  • Sinus or ear infections*
  • Rashes*

* telemedicine may also be an option

Telemedicine offers 24/7 doctor access

Telemedicine allows you to care for your health from the comfort of your home. All you need is a smartphone, computer, or tablet to video chat with a doctor securely and at your convenience. You may be able to see your primary care physician if they offer telemedicine service.

Telemedicine isn’t meant to treat life-threatening conditions or issues that require more than visual observation. For example, you need to visit a doctor’s office for bloodwork, X-rays, or vaccinations.

A physician may be able to treat skin concerns, bronchitis, cough or cold, stomach problems such as acid reflux or abdominal pain, minor cuts, prescription refills, or mental health via telemedicine. However, you may need to schedule an in-person follow-up appointment if additional tests or bloodwork are required.

Find out more about telemedicine and the Amwell: Doctor Visits 24/7 app on our website.

When to Go to a Hospital Emergency  Room

While a trip to the doctor’s office often costs less than the emergency room, sometimes you can’t avoid the hospital. Call 911 or head to the emergency room immediately if you’re facing a potentially life-threatening situation.

Medical emergencies such as heart attack or stroke symptoms, chest pain, difficulty breathing, choking, severe burns, seizures, head/neck injuries, or compound fractures warrant emergency room treatment. 

More Resources for You 

We want Vermonters to have healthcare education right at their fingertips. See more on our blog for coverage of topics ranging from understanding your health plan to advice on your health and wellness.