Some situations are clearly an emergency: A heart attack, fall off a ladder, serious kitchen burn or bone break. You know to call 9-1-1 and to get your loved one to the nearest emergency department.

But some health issues are harder to decipher, says Bradford Borden, MD, Chairman of the Emergency Services Institute. “People may not fully understand all their options and the differences between them,” he says. “It’s especially important to know the quickest routes to care when there’s a true emergency.”

In what situations should you get your loved one to an Emergency Department (ED) or an express care clinic? Here’s a guide to using the options most effectively:

Hospitals or Free Standing Emergency Departments

Here’s a list of the types of situations that require such immediate care:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Signs of heart attack or stroke, including sudden, severe pain and/or chest discomfort or difficulty breathing
  • Uncontrolled or excessive bleeding
  • Coughing up or vomiting blood
  • Head injury or any major injury
  • Severe burns
  • Sudden or unexpected paralysis
  • Poisoning, suspected poisoning or drug overdose
  • Accidents, including falls and car crashes or injuries caused by violence, such as gunshot wounds
  • Extreme emotional distress, including suicidal or homicidal feelings

Express Care Clinic

An express care clinic offers care for common health problems such as:

  • Cold and flu symptoms, including sore throat
  • Pink eye
  • Sinus infections
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Sore Throats
  • Rising Temperature
  • Preventative Care
  • Earaches

To avoid unnecessary ED trips:

  • Learn the signs of true medical emergencies like stroke and heart attack versus less serious symptoms that don’t require an ED.
  • Familiarize yourself with other nearby healthcare facilities, such as urgent care centers and express care centers.

Understanding the best way to receive care depending on the condition can help you use the healthcare system more efficiently and effectively.