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Know where to go for the care you need

Written by Aetna By Aetna Medicare

When you need to see a health care provider right away, you need to make a choice: do you go to the emergency room, urgent care center or a walk-in clinic? The right decision can save you time and money. But how do you decide which option is best for you? Keep reading or watch this short video to learn more.

Walk-in clinic. Urgent care center. Emergency room.

Know where to go for the care you need.

Where’s the best place to find fast, effective care for a sprained ankle? What about a bad cold? Or recurring lower back pain?

Choosing the appropriate place to go for treatment is a big part of receiving the most efficient care.

A walk-in clinic is usually a good option to consider for minor illnesses and injuries.

These walk-in neighborhood clinics treat health issues like cold and flu symptoms, sore and strep throat, earache, or allergies.

A walk-in clinic, like the MinuteClinic inside many CVS pharmacy locations, Walgreens healthcare clinic, or Kroger’s The Little Clinic can treat these types of issues and help you feel better fast.

Most are staffed by certified nurse practitioners and physician assistants, accept walk-ins, and are open seven days a week.

But what if you have a more serious, but not life-threatening, situation?

Then you should go to an urgent care center. Urgent care centers can treat things like sprains and fractures, cuts that require stitches, or lower back and joint pain.

Urgent care centers are also staffed by certified nurse practitioners and physician assistants, as well as other licensed practitioners.

Many also offer additional services to what you would find in a walk-in clinic, like imaging, X-rays, and lab services on site.

Walk-in clinics and urgent care centers can handle many health problems.

But you should go to an emergency room if you experience intense and unexpected symptoms like chest pain, difficulty breathing or severe bleeding.

Emergency rooms have a wider range of specialists and treatment options. So they are equipped to handle more serious issues. If you still aren’t sure where to go and want to get more information about available options, call our toll-free, 24-7 nurse line, at 1-800-556-1555 (TTY: 711).

The difference between walk-in clinics, urgent care and the ER

The most important thing to consider is the type of treatment you may need. The ER is best equipped to see people with unexpected, intense and immediate symptoms or injuries, such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding. But many other health problems can be addressed more quickly in other settings. In fact, as many as one in four ER visits could be handled at an urgent care center1. An urgent care center, for example, can treat issues like sprains, fractures and cuts that require stitches. And, you’re more likely to be treated faster at an urgent care center --90% of the patients who visit urgent care are out in less than an hour2.

But urgent care centers aren’t the only option available for people seeking immediate treatment. For people suffering from issues like a sore throat, the flu or allergies, a walk-in clinic is usually a good option to consider. Most of these walk-in neighborhood clinics are open seven days a week, are typically staffed by certified nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, and can have you feeling better in no time.


1 Weinick, Robin M et al. Health Aff (Millwood). 2010 September; 29(9): 1630-1636. Doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2009.0748. Available at: Accessed: January 23, 2019.

2 Urgent Care Association. 2017 Benchmarking Report Summary, Headlines on Growth. 2017. Available at: Accessed: January 23, 2019.

We’re here to help.

If you still aren’t sure where to go, there are resources that can help. Call our toll-free 24/7 Nurse Line at 1-800-556-1555 (TTY: 711) to get more information about where you can seek treatment. 

In case of emergency, call 911 or your local emergency hotline or go directly to an emergency care facility. This message is for informational purposes only, is not medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for proper medical care provided by a physician. Information is believed to be accurate as of the production date; however, it is subject to change. For more information about Aetna plans, refer to

Need help?

Call us at 1-833-329-0412 (TTY: 711) to chat about any Medicare questions you have.