Urgent care clinics have exploded in popularity in recent years, as more people decide they don’t want to spend hours waiting in the emergency room for something that needs timely treatment but isn’t an immediate threat to life and limb. But there are still some ailments that will require a trip to the emergency room, and it’s important to use common sense to decide just where you should seek medical treatment.

Know When To Go Urgent Care or Emergency Room

When You Need the ER

Do you feel woozy after your head slammed against the steering wheel during a car accident? Head to the emergency room; you may be dealing with a head injury, and you don’t want to mess around with head injuries. The same is true of potential heart attacks and strokes; you need to go to the place with the highest level of care possible.

While urgent care clinics have plenty of highly trained doctors and nurses, there are some things that they’re simply not equipped to handle. Acute illnesses and minor injuries are OK, but if someone is bleeding heavily or doesn’t seem to know where they are (or, heaven forbid, both), call an ambulance immediately.

However, there may be some cases where the patient clearly needs to see someone today, but you aren’t sure if they should be seen at an ER or urgent care facility. Maybe it looks like they’ve fractured their leg, but it doesn’t look like a particularly gruesome break. If you aren’t sure, you can always call the local urgent care facility and ask. But that’s only in borderline cases. If someone has accidentally cut their finger off with a kitchen knife, don’t waste the urgent care clinic’s time by calling. Amputations are serious, critical injuries, and you need to get to the hospital fast, especially if you’re holding out hope that the finger could be reattached.

Every ailment is different, but if you’re still not sure where to go, head for the emergency room. It’s better to go to a facility with a level of care that you might not need than end up at a place that isn’t properly equipped to care for your injury or illness.

What Urgent Care Can Do

If you have a sinus infection that seems to be getting worse instead of better, an urgent care can help you out. The same is true of migraines, rashes, sore throats, and runny noses. If you have a nasty insect bite, an urgent care may also be the place to go. Generally speaking, urgent care is a good place to go for situations that are bothersome and painful without being critical. At one time or another, almost everyone has woken up with a bad cold or caught a case of pinkeye from their toddler, and most people would rather get treated for those things at an urgent care facility. Speaking of toddlers, urgent may be a good place to go for foreign body removals, also known as “Sarah got something stuck in her ear again.” Though it depends on what, exactly, is stuck, and especially the location where it got stuck.

It’s hard to talk about medical care nowadays without also talking about cost. In almost every case, urgent care centers will be cheaper than a visit to the ER. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be cheap, but it could be a difference of thousands of dollars versus hundreds of dollars. If paying for medical costs is a recurring problem, look into neighborhood health centers that serve low-income patients, many of whom are uninsured or underinsured. No person should have to forgo health care due to lack of money, and you may have more options than you realize.