Knowing where to seek treatment makes a difference in terms of physical and financial health, as well as recovery, when you or a loved one is sick or injured. How do you know if a trip to the emergency room is required?

Based on the symptoms presented, the following tips can help you determine if your issue is a true emergency or if a visit to urgent care or your physician’s office will bring you relief.

Head to the emergency room if you or a family member is experiencing:

  • Chest pain, numbness in face, arm or leg, difficulty speaking
  • A cut or wound that won’t stop bleeding
  • A high fever with a stiff neck, mental confusion or difficulty breathing
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Sudden or unexplained loss of consciousness
  • Any life-threatening or disabling condition (severe allergic reactions, head injuries, severe alcohol intoxication)

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s Medical Director, Dr. Josette Gordon-Simet, says if you’re alone and are impacted by one of the scenarios outlined above, call 911 first, rather than driving yourself to the emergency room.

“A patient may experience a medical event on the way and cause an accident or harm and injuries to others and themselves,” she stated.

Head to urgent care for:

  • Animal bites
  • Back pain
  • Bumps, cuts, scrapes
  • Coughs, sore throat
  • Mild asthma
  • Minor allergic reactions
  • Minor fevers, colds
  • Minor headaches
  • IV fluids for simple dehydration
  • Immunizations
  • Simple infections of the bladder, sinus, ear

“Urgent care centers are equipped to stabilize fractures and broken bones,” Gordon-Simet said. “They can also treat a simple laceration. A complex laceration that is deep and profusely bleeding should be evaluated and treated in the emergency room, but a simple laceration where you apply pressure and the bleeding is controlled? The urgent care provider can certainly make an assessment and repair when appropriate.”


Head to your physician’s office for non-emergent situations that still require medical attention:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Possible broken bones
  • Rashes, minor burns
  • Sprains, strains
  • Stitches
  • Vaccinations
  • X-rays

“Cough, colds, sore throats – those are pretty standard things that your physician’s office can also handle,” Gordon-Simet said.

What about those late night earaches – or similar situations – for yourself or a little one? Dr. Gordon-Simet recommends to “call your doctor, and ask for their guidance on managing your symptoms until the office opens. Non-urgent symptoms are quite manageable overnight without the expense of an emergency [room] visit.”

She continued, “If there is something more critical going on, such as a child becoming limp or unresponsive, call 911 for assistance and stay with your child. Furthermore, I recommend all parents obtain CPR training because this does save lives.”

Ultimately, use your best judgement to assess the situation and get the care that you or your family member needs. If you’re visiting a new physician or an urgent care provider, be sure call ahead to make sure they are in-network with your health insurance provider.