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Choosing between urgent and emergency care

When you need medical care quickly, choosing the right provider can save you time, money, and stress. Read this page to understand when to choose urgent care, when to call 911 or go to the emergency room, and when to consider other types of care.

    When to choose urgent care

    Our VA and in-network urgent care providers can meet many of your health needs. And you can often get care for minor illnesses or injuries much faster than in an emergency room. 

    Urgent care might be right for you if you have health problems or symptoms like these:

    • A sore throat or persistent cough
    • Strains, sprains, or minor broken bones 
    • Deep cuts that are no longer bleeding a lot
    • Allergies
    • Mild burns
    • Mild nausea or vomiting
    • Urinary tract infection symptoms (like needing to pee often or urgently, urine that looks cloudy or smells bad, pain when you pee, or pain in your side, abdomen, or pelvic area)

    When to call 911 or go to the emergency room

    Any time you think your life or health is in danger, go to the nearest emergency room or call 911 right away. If you or someone else has symptoms that can’t wait (like choking, stopped breathing, or severe chest pain), don’t try to drive to an emergency room. Call 911 to have emergency care come to you.

    Get emergency help right away for any symptoms like these:

    • Head injury
    • Trouble breathing
    • Falling without a known cause
    • Cuts that won’t stop bleeding, severe burns, or wounds that won’t close
    • Stroke symptoms (like slurred speech, sudden numbness or weakness in a part of your body, loss of balance or vision, or a drooping face)
    • Chest pain or discomfort (like pressure, squeezing, or a feeling of fullness in your chest) 
    • Severe allergic reaction symptoms (like swelling lips or trouble swallowing or breathing) 
    • Vaginal bleeding or abdominal pain during pregnancy

    Also get emergency help right away for head injuries or any of these symptoms:

    • Severe dizziness or losing consciousness (passing out)
    • A headache that keeps getting worse or won’t go away
    • Vomiting or nausea that won’t stop
    • A high fever with a headache or stiff neck
    • Seizures
    • Dilated pupils, trouble waking up or staying awake, or clear fluids draining from the nose or ears after a head injury

    These symptoms aren’t all the signs of an emergency. When in doubt, get help right away. If you need emergency care, you don’t need a VA referral or approval to go to a non-VA emergency room in your community.

    Other types of VA care to consider

    If you don’t need help right away, you might want to consider other types of VA care.

    Same-day services for primary or mental health care

    Every VA medical center offers some same-day primary care and mental health services. Types of services vary by location.

    Find your nearest VA facility with same-day services

    Telehealth for care by phone or video

    Meet with your VA health care team and send important health data from home through telehealth. You can also connect with VA specialists across the country from a VA clinic near you.

    Learn more about VA telehealth

    Whole Health for a personalized health plan

    Whole Health is an approach to care that supports your health and well-being. This approach puts you at the center of your care. Your health team will get to know you as a person first. Then, they’ll work with you to create a personalized health plan based on your values, needs, and goals.

    Learn more about Whole Health

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