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Sonoma County Gazette

Urgent Care or Emergency Room?

Mar 15, 2018


By Mark Blankenship RN, Director of Perioperative Services/Interim Director of Nursing

When one needs urgent medical attention after hours, should they go to an Urgent Care Clinic or a hospital Emergency Room (ER)?

Urgent Care indicates a “walk-in”, dedicated medical facility for ambulatory patients. It is typically open seven days a week with extended hours; not usually open round the clock. These clinics are well-staffed with multiple exam rooms and at least one physician who functions as the medical director. The average wait time is under 15 minutes. They can be physician-owned, corporate, or an offshoot of a local hospital.

Urgent Care Clinics are accredited and regulated, but not always licensed to dispense prescribed medications, especially narcotics. Patient insurance co-pays can range from $25 to $100 as opposed to a $100 or more in a hospital ER. Urgent Care Clinics may require payment up front. They are not required to provide care to everyone who walks in.

Hospital emergency rooms are designed for more serious conditions such as suspected heart attacks, stroke, severe-penetrating injuries or fractures, convulsions, seizures, fever in newborns less than 3 months old, and those with suicidal or homicidal feelings.

A condition that may be suitable for an Urgent Care Clinic can escalate to one requiring a fully equipped ER. A prime example is a life threatening anaphylactic reaction (the sudden and severe narrowing of the airway due to an allergy or bug bite), which can be fatal without rapid intervention. Most patients diagnosed with serious allergies carry “Epi-Pens” which upon use can dramatically reduce the severity of symptoms.

In Santa Rosa and Petaluma, in addition to the major hospital systems, there are Urgent Care Clinics. In the West County, there are no Urgent Care facilities. When time is of the essence to provide urgent or emergency care, Sonoma West Medical Center, in Sebastopol is open 24/7 to provide a dual role. It is wise to know the route to both your nearest Urgent Care Clinic and hospital Emergency Department.


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