The number of emergency room visits in the United States has risen gradually through the years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were 145 million visits to emergency rooms in 2016, up from 136.9 million in 2015. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that rural emergency department visit rates have increased by more than 50 percent compared to their urban counterparts.

Such significant increases can lead to long wait times as well as overcrowding. This often leads to understandable patient frustration and dissatisfaction.

Emergency room patients must be prioritized and seen in order of acuity, not necessarily who arrived first.

One way to combat these overcrowding issues has been the increased availability of urgent care clinics.

Urgent care clinics are places that are typically open longer, later hours than a regular doctor’s office. They offer care for minor medical issues that arise that need attention, but are not life- or limb-threatening emergencies.

Urgent care clinics usually have X-ray machines and lab equipment necessary for diagnosis.

They also have the capability to provide care for minor injuries such as splinting of broken bones, applying stitches, treating infections, and draining abscesses, among others.

Many people debate whether their illness or injury needs to be seen in an urgent care clinic or an emergency room.

In general, if you would normally see your regular doctor, but don’t want to wait, or if your have an injury that is not threatening your life or body part, you can be seen in an urgent care clinic.

The following are issues that can be treated in an urgent care clinic:

• Fever.

• Mild flu-like symptoms.

• Sprains and strains.

• Small cuts.

• Vomiting/nausea/diarrhea.

• Painful urination.

• Sore throat, cough, congestion.

• Ear and eye pain.

• Animal bites.

More serious issues will require treatment in an emergency room.

People with the following symptoms should seek treatment in an ER:

• Breathing problems.

• Allergic reactions affecting breathing.

• Chest pain.

• Stroke symptoms — trouble speaking, confusion, facial drooping.

• Severe wounds and amputations.

• Major broken bones.

• Seizures.

• Concussions.

• Poisoning.

• Coughing up or vomiting blood.

• Suicidal feelings.

If you have any questions regarding emergency room care versus urgent care clinics, feel free to call the Henry County Medical Center FindLine at 644-3463.

LORI STAMBAUGH is the community nurse educator at Henry County Medical Center. A registered nurse, she has a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

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