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Should I Go to a Doctor, Walk-in Clinic, Urgent Care Center, or Hospital Emergency Department

  • Publish Date : 2019/08/15 - (Rev. 2019/08/24)
  • Author : Disabled World
  • Contact : www.disabled-world.com

Synopsis: Provides information regarding where to go to get medical care when you are not sure if you should go to a walk-in clinic, urgent care center, family doctor, or hospital emergency department. Emergency situations should be handled by calling your local emergency service, e.g. 911 in the U.S., to provide ambulance service to the nearest hospital. You should not drive yourself to the emergency room if you're experiencing chest pain, severe bleeding, dizziness or nausea, or head trauma.

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All urgent emergency situations should be handled by calling your local emergency service, e.g. 911 in the U.S., to provide ambulance service to the nearest hospital. The problem is deciding what qualifies as an emergency is often not easy, as symptoms can vary greatly. Learning as much as possible about symptoms of life-threatening health issues in advance is useful.

When to Go to Your Doctor

We cannot offer solid guidelines for when you should see a doctor, or when it is unnecessary, because symptoms with the same cause vary too much and symptoms with different causes overlap too much.

The decision to see a doctor can vary, depending on whether the visit is for preventive care (e.g. routine visit, yearly check up), for medical problems, or for a more serious reason, condition, or emergency. Everyone should see their doctor, dentist, and eye doctor for preventive care routinely.

In general people visit their doctor for illness treatment, disease management referrals, diagnostics, preventive care, and prescriptions.

When to Go to a Clinic or Walk-in Clinic

If the condition is a minor illness or injury then a visit to a walk-in clinic is probably your best choice.

Most walk-in clinics provide medical services such as diagnostics, prescriptions, and preventive care for non-acute symptoms of common illnesses, skin conditions, screenings, and vaccinations, as well as other community services.

When to Go to an Urgent Care Center

Clip art image of female and male doctor.
Clip art image of female and male doctor.

The main distinguishing feature of an Urgent Care Center is that it is not designated as a 'Receiving Center' for ambulance bound patients. Thus, any patients being transported by ambulance will be routed to an ED. However, it is recognized that Urgent Care Centers may be the destination chosen by patients suffering from what ultimately evolves into an immediate life or limb threatening clinical problem. Thus, Urgent Care Centers must have the necessary skills and diagnostic equipment to assess and resuscitate patients presenting with a complete range of medical problems. Urgent Care Centers typically - although not necessarily - operate for a reduced number of hours (generally 12 to 16) per day.

Some urgent care facilities operate as part of a primary care facility, either in a Comprehensive Health Center, multidisciplinary clinic, or a primary care facility such as a doctor's office. Conceptually, Urgent Care Centers focus on the delivery of care to patients and ideally, they are designed to provide services that do not necessarily need to be delivered in a hospital, but address the vast majority of urgent care needs of patients served either by the primary care group or the community. They will typically be capable of diagnosing and managing problems such as respiratory tract infections, soft tissue injuries, minor fractures, abdominal pain, etc. Some urgent care facilities have on site, or immediate access to, basic laboratory evaluation and diagnostic imaging.

An urgent care care center is a category of walk-in clinic focused on the delivery of ambulatory care in a dedicated medical facility outside of a traditional emergency department. In Europe and the U.K., similar services are known as walk-in centres. Urgent care centers are an alternative to A&E, treating both children and adults.

An illness or injury that does not appear to be life threatening but can't wait until the next day should be treated at an urgent care center.

Urgent care centers are primarily for patients whose illnesses or injuries don't present as life-threatening, but who can't wait until a primary care physician can treat them. Urgent Care Centers provide non life-threatening conditions such as diagnostics, prescriptions, treatment for minor injuries, Illness, and treatment(s) that should be seen to the same day.

When to Go to a Hospital Emergency Department

An Emergency Department (ED) is, by definition, a 24/7 service which operates in a hospital. It is provided with all appropriate infrastructure (including not only human resources, but also the technology) necessary for the assessment, resuscitation, stabilization, and, where appropriate, either admission or transfer, of emergently ill or injured patients.

If the condition is possibly life threatening such as stroke, severe burns, poisoning, severe allergic reactions, chest pain, difficulty breathing, head trauma, severe bleeding, loss of vision, or heart attack, then always play it safe by getting to the closest hospital emergency department as soon as possible. For instance, the following examples clearly require an immediate visit to the emergency department without delay:

  • Sudden onset of extreme pain anywhere in or on the body.
  • Vomiting blood or coughing up a relatively large amount of blood.
  • Sudden, severe worsening of a serious chronic disorder, such as asthma or diabetes.

When in doubt call an ambulance!

You should not drive yourself to the emergency room if you're experiencing chest pain, severe bleeding, dizziness or nausea, or head trauma. If you believe your injuries or symptoms are life-threatening or may become life threatening within a few minutes, call your local emergency service number immediately, do not hesitate, and do not wait to see if "it will go away on its own!".


  • For colds, flus, sprains, rashes, annual check-ups, medical question, etc. - Visit your family physician, network clinic, walk-in clinic, pharmacist,
  • For any medical condition that requires you to be referred to a specialist. - Visit the specialist or community hospital referred to you by a health-care professional.
  • For any complex health problem diagnosed by your family doctor - or a doctor you were referred to - that requires hospitalization, complex surgery, emergency care or specialized treatment - Visit an expert at the hospital who will arrange the procedure(s) for you.
  • Urgent care and/or walk-in clinics help fill a vital gap when you become sick or injured, but your regular doctor is not available and you can't wait for an appointment.
  • In non-urgent cases, the most rapid way to initiate treatment for a health issue is to go to your family doctor or a network clinic rather than visiting the hospital Emergency Department as the wait often causes frustration for patients as well as backup in workload for Emergency Department staff. Don't clutter up the system just because you have an obvious minor ailment.
  • If your emergency happens outside of clinic hours, or you require immediate care, visit the closest emergency department.

Above all, if your personal instinct or motherly intuition tells you a health condition is serious, don't hesitate ! go to the nearest emergency room!

Another medical care option, Telemedicine, is fast becoming a convenient alternative option instead of a physical visit to pharmacy care, or a walk-in clinic. Learn more about today's Telemedicine and eHealth trend.

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