Northwestern Medicine

Should you go to the Emergency Department or an Immediate Care Center?

Northwestern Memorial Hospital January 13, 2015

Sometimes it’s a real emergency; sometimes you just want to make sure it’s not pink eye. Our experts weigh in on the most appropriate place to seek care for all kinds of medical conditions. 

CHICAGO, IL –   Life threatening emergencies such as strokes, heart attacks or head injuries are always treated at a hospital emergency department, but what about other health concerns? Most of us are much more likely to experience a more minor medical issue such as a fever, small cut or sore throat. These issues may not be life-threatening, but that doesn’t mean they can wait.

Emergency Department or Urgent CareWhile the answer is not always cut and dry, knowing the different treatment options available at a Northwestern Medicine® immediate care center verses a Northwestern Medicine emergency department could not only save your life, but also time and money. Northwestern Medicine operates two Chicago immediate care centers located in River North and Lakeview and three suburban clinics in Deerfield, Glenview and Evanston, said Jack Franaszek, MD, medical director of Northwestern Medicine immediate care centers.

“In many ways, immediate care is an extension of a primary care physician’s office,” Franaszek said. “Sometimes people can’t get an appointment at their doctor’s office so we fill in the gap by diagnosing and treating things like sore throats, coughs, ear aches and simple cuts and sprains. While these aliments may be considered minor in the medical community, they are not minor to the person experiencing them.”  

Other conditions best treated at immediate care centers include asthma, diarrhea, flu, pink eye and urinary tract infections. Minor accidents, skin problems, animal bites and sprains can also be treated at immediate care centers.

No appointment is needed to be seen at a Northwestern Medicine immediate care center and all are open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. While patients don’t need to have a Northwestern Medicine physician, if a specialist or follow-up care is required, referrals are available, Franaszek added.

On the other hand, a Northwestern Medicine Emergency Department is more appropriate for patients with severe medical issues such as a blow to the head, concerning stomach pains, or profuse vomiting. If you need an ultrasound, CT scan or extensive blood work, the best place is the emergency room, said Rahul Khare, MD, a Northwestern Medicine emergency medicine physician.

“Emergency department doctors and clinicians provide fast care for medical conditions that are or could be life-threatening such as a heart attack or stroke,” said Khare, who is also an associate professor of emergency medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “If you or a loved one are involved in an emergency, remember to bring a list of medications and allergies and remain clam. When you first arrive, communication is the first step in getting every patient the best possible treatment.”

Patients with chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease, or who may be dehydrated and in need of IV therapy should bypass immediate care and go directly to the Northwestern Medicine emergency department, Khare added.

Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital and the Northwestern Medicine Grayslake Emergency Center also offer “Emergency Room Express,” an online check-in system that allows patients to see the first available check-in time and to hold a spot in line. Although patients are seen based on the severity of their illness or injury, patients will be seen as close to their check-in time as possible.

Learn more information on the Northwestern Medicine Immediate Care centers and Northwestern Medicine’s emergency departments

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