The Difference Between Emergency Room and Urgent Care Services

Jul 14, 2023

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. – July 14, 2023 – When a medical emergency arises, it can be confusing to know where one should seek urgent medical services. Emergency rooms (ER) treat patients with urgent, acute and life-threatening conditions. Urgent care centers offer medical care for conditions that need immediate attention but are not life-threatening.

When an Emergency Room is Needed

For patients suffering from a serious illness or injury, or in danger of dying, visit the closest ER immediately. Appointments are not provided when going to the ER. Patients are seen in order of emergency and pressing medical needs, which means patients may need to wait. For a medical emergency such as a heart attack or stroke, it’s imperative to call 911 for an ambulance instead of driving, so that emergency medical services begin treatment immediately. The hospital ER is the best place for emergency medical care.

“Every second counts during a life-threatening medical emergency,” said Dr. Lisa Sotir, Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine for MetroWest Medical Center. “When urgent medical services are required, visit our ER immediately for fast, quality care from our emergency department team or call 911 for emergency medical services.”

When Urgent Care is an Option

Patients that cannot visit a primary care physician right away have the option to visit an urgent care medical center. These centers typically provide treatment for minor illnesses, cuts, burns, puncture wounds, fractures, bites, stings, sprains and strains. Urgent care facilities may offer convenient on-site laboratory and X-rays, in addition to extended hours in the evening and on weekends. No appointments are necessary. However, a primary doctor knows the medical history and records, so if it’s not severe, it may be beneficial to schedule an appointment with a physician.

Symptoms That Require an ER

The following situations are a sure sign of a medical emergency and require immediate attention, whether calling 911 or visiting the nearest emergency room.


  • Severe head injury
  • To your neck or spine, especially if a loss of feeling
  • Serious burn or burn over a large part of the body
  • Broken bone, especially if the bone is pushing through the skin
  • Deep wound or heavy bleeding


  • Severe chest pain or pressure
  • Jaw pain with shortness of breath or chest discomfort
  • Intense back pain with numbness, weakness or fever
  • Severe, debilitating pain anywhere on the body
  • Arm pain with shortness of breath or chest discomfort
  • Unusual or intense headache that comes on fast
  • Digestive problems, especially sudden, severe stomach pain, coupled with nausea and vomiting

Breathing Issues:

  • Difficulty breathing or choking
  • Passing out or fainting suddenly
  • Serious allergic reaction with trouble breathing or swelling


  • Muscle strain, when tied to the inability to walk, fever or an open wound
  • Inability to speak, see or move
  • Sudden weak or drooping sensation on one side of the body


  • Inhalation of smoke or poisonous fumes
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • Electric shock or lightning strike
  • High fever that doesn’t improve with medicine
  • Suicidal thoughts/thoughts of hurting yourself or others

MetroWest Medical Center Emergency Department is ready to help and located in downtown Framingham.
For more information, visit our website here.

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