Should I go to Urgent Care or Emergency Room? What you need to know

Published: May. 8, 2023 at 7:16 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Chances are if you’ve been to an emergency room in Springfield you’ve encountered a full-room and long waits.

“The wait times have gone up across the board and it’s a national problem,” explained Dr. Jamie Jones, a CoxHealth Emergency Health Physician. “If you track back 10 years we were seeing about 50-60,000 encounters in one-year through the urgent care system. We considered that to be a lot. This past year we crested right at 180,000 encounters. So we’ve tripled that number in less than 10 years.”

Jones said the pandemic didn’t help but it’s not the main reason behind the increase.

“These two hospital systems (Cox and Mercy) cover an enormous area,” he pointed out. “We cover way over a million lives not just in southwest Missouri but it extends into three states. A lot of rural emergency rooms refer their major traumas to us so we’re getting funneled a lot of life-threatening situations for our care. Plus there’s been a population growth in the area and millions of tourists coming to Branson every year. So all that really taxes our emergency rooms. That’s why we’re trying to provide other access points for the community to healthcare outside of the emergency rooms.”

Those walk-in clinics and urgent care centers (nine by CoxHealth, four by Mercy) have been popping up in the area over the past several years. The problem is many people still head to the emergency room for illnesses or injuries that they could get taken care of at an urgent care clinic.

“Being at the right place for the right care really benefits both the hospitals and your neighbor,” Jones said. “That way we can all get the right care when we need it.”

Both the Cox and Mercy websites show their different levels of care and direct you to where you should go with your injury or illness.

The main thing to remember is that emergency rooms are for life-threatening injuries like strokes, heart attacks, major behavioral issues, coughing up or vomiting blood, broken bones visible through the skin, breathing difficulties, severe burns and of course victims of major trauma events like car crashes or shootings.

Urgent care can take care of coughs, colds and flu, sore throats, ear problems, urinary discomfort, minor injuries and burns, sprains and strains, possible broken bones, simple cuts, animal or insect bites and other issues that are non-life threatening.

And if you’re confused or can’t decide what to do?

“You can always go to a community urgent care and if we deem that the situation mandates a higher level of care we’ll help direct you to the right place,” Jones answered.

Both Cox and Mercy also have “Save My Spot” reservations online where you pick a time for your urgent care visit and don’t have to wait at the clinic.

“You sign-up for a spot and your wait time starts at home,” Jones said. “So hopefully 90 percent of your wait time is already taken care of while you’re getting other things done. But sometimes things happen at the urgent care. We have emergencies too. It’s not to the level or frequency as the emergency rooms but it can push back your appointment time a bit. But so far it’s been pretty successful. However, I do want to point out that if you’re having a significant or worrying symptom such as belly pain, chest pain, shortness of breath or severe headaches, those kind of things really need to be seen immediately and be evaluated rather than waiting. And sometimes the website will not allow you to make an appointment because the symptoms you’re entering show that you need to come in now.”

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