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January 24, 2006 > ER vs. Urgent Care

ER vs. Urgent Care

Knowing what to do when you or someone close to you needs immediate medical attention can be a tricky decision. Most people have heard of the emergency room (ER) but there is another option to consider if the condition isn't life threatening. Urgent care centers offer some of the same services as emergency rooms, though they differ in several important ways. Understanding those differences can help you choose the most appropriate place for your care.

What is an Urgent Care Center?
An urgent care center is a facility that specializes in minor emergencies. Washington Hospital operates four health care clinics in the Tri-City area that offer high quality urgent care whether you have an appointment or not.
"Urgent care centers are designed to treat minor medical conditions that may become life threatening if not taken care of urgently," says Dr. Naeem Hashmi, Clinical Medical Director of the Washington Clinic/Fremont. "Our staff is experienced, well trained and our clinics are a convenient and cost effective alternative to emergency room care."

Waiting time at an urgent care center can be shorter than in the ER, where life-threatening conditions are treated first and less serious cases receive lower priority. Urgent care centers usually provide services at a lower cost than the ER, and many health insurance plans include a lower member co-payment for an urgent care facility visit compared with the out-of-pocket expense a member would pay at the ER.

Washington Hospital Clinics treat non life-threatening problems such as respiratory infections, colds, coughs, flu-related symptoms, fevers, vomiting, earache, and minor cuts requiring stitches. School and work physicals, drug screening and travel immunizations are available. X-rays and laboratory services are also offered at Washington Hospital Clinics.

"Patients with pre-existing serious conditions such as a known bleeding problem, high fever or have undergone recent surgery should be looked at in an emergency room," adds Dr. Hashmi.

When to Choose Emergency Care

"Emergency care is necessary when a patient is suffering from a life-threatening medical condition," says Dr. David Orenberg, Medical Director of Emergency Services at Washington Hospital. "If a medical condition arises suddenly and you believe that without immediate care and treatment that your life or health is in jeopardy, you should go to the emergency room."
Emergency departments are staffed with highly skilled physicians who have specialty training in managing catastrophic illnesses or life-threatening injuries.

Some examples include:

  • Signs of a heart attack that last two minutes or longer, including chest pain
  • Signs of stroke, like sudden onset of numbness in the arms or legs
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Bleeding that won't stop after 10 minutes of direct pressure
  • Poisoning
  • Complicated fractures or broken bones
  • Major injury such as head injury
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Suicidal or homicidal feelings

"Emergency room physicians and nurses are trained to evaluate and treat serious or critical conditions," says Dr. Frank Zeidan, Assistant Medical Director of Emergency Services at Washington Hospital. "We must always consider the possibility of serious illness, especially in the very young, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems."

Zeidan says a key ingredient to ensuring high quality care throughout the Washington Hospital Healthcare System is cooperation. "Our clinic physicians are board-certified and work very well with our emergency room physicians."

The Cost of Using the Emergency Room vs. Urgent Care

A visit to the emergency department for a non-emergent service will often cost three to four times more than a visit to an urgent care center. Overuse of the emergency room is one of the top drivers to higher cost and rate increases for insurance today. But the cost is not only a financial one, keeping the physician from seeing more emergent cases means time delays for everyone. For many medical situations contacting your doctor's office during normal business hours, or going to an Urgent Care facility is often a better solution.

Washington Hospital Clinics are conveniently located throughout the District and offer a wide range of services. To find a Washington Clinic close to you, visit, click on "Our Facilities" and select "Washington Hospital Clinics" from the drop-down menu. Nakamura Clinic, Union City, located at 33077 Alvarado-Niles Road, is Washington Hospital's newest clinic that provides primary and urgent care services. Call (510) 487-6000 to make an appointment. Walk-in visits are welcome.

The following clinics offer both primary care and urgent care services:

Washington Clinic/Fremont
Washington West

2500 Mowry Ave., Suite 212
Fremont, CA 94538
Tel: (510) 608-6174
Hours: Open everyday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Washington Clinic/Warm Springs
46690 Mohave Dr.
Fremont, CA 94539
Tel: (510) 651-2371 or (408) 946-6443
Hours: M - F, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Washington Clinic/Newark
35500 Dumbarton Court
Newark, CA 94560
Tel: (510) 797-7535
Hours: M - F, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Nakamura Clinic, Union City
33077 Alvarado-Niles Rd.
Union City, CA 94587
Tel: (510) 487-6000
Hours: M - F, 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
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