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Physician assistant emergency medicine: The difference between urgent care and emergency care

By November 12, 2021No Comments
CME - urgent care different from emergency care

Urgent care and emergency care. Don’t the two terms mean the same thing? After all, the terms are synonymous, and both require immediate action or attention. Knowing the difference can help you make the right career choice as a physician assistant. Here’s a quick look at these two areas of medicine, their similarities, their differences, and the role of a physician assistant in emergency medicine and urgent care.

The difference between emergency and urgency in language

The English language has clear definitions for these two words:
Emergency: An emergency is one in which property (a building on fire), health (a heart attack), the environment (forest fire), or a person’s life (danger due to natural disasters) faces an immediate threat. Urgent measures must be taken to ensure the situation does not worsen. However, sometimes, there is no solution except palliative care.
The word emergency differs in various agencies that respond to an emergency situation and the procedures to take care of the situation.
In medicine, an emergency is an immediate threat to the wellbeing of a person.
Urgency: An urgent situation needs immediate action and prompt attention so that it does not worsen. Again, the word urgency is treated differently in various agencies which respond to an urgent situation. There is no immediate danger to health, property, life, or the environment. Still, specific steps must be taken within a certain period, so the situation does not turn into an emergency.

In medicine, urgency is a threat to a person’s wellbeing in the near future.

The difference between emergency care and urgent care Emergency care

In the healthcare industry, an emergency department treats life and limb-threatening conditions that require immediate medical attention.
Emergency departments are always staffed with physician assistants, physicians, nursing practitioners, and nurses who have been trained to administer emergency care. Emergency teams have immediate access to advanced specialists like cardiologists, neurologists, and orthopedists.
Emergency departments are self-sufficient and have their laboratories and imaging resources to diagnose and treat life-threatening conditions immediately.

Some conditions treated in emergency care:

  • Severe bleeding that cannot be controlled
  • Coughing or throwing up blood
  • Fits/epileptic seizures
  • Chest pain, heart attacks
  • Head injuries and head trauma
  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the extremities
  • Diabetic emergencies
  • Signs of infection like pus or swelling around an injury
  • Sudden headaches and migraine
  • Collapsing or loss of consciousness
  • Sharp or severe pain in the abdomen, lower back, gut, or pelvis.
  • Serious burns
  • Traumatic injuries that threaten life or limb.
  • Inhaled or ingested poisoning
  • Shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, severe asthma attacks
  • Mental health emergencies like altered mental state or thoughts of harming one’s self or others.
  • Strokes or symptoms of a stroke like one-sided weakness, difficulty speaking, or drooping facial features

Working as a physician assistant emergency medicine

An emergency department PA is trained to work in an emergency room in a major hospital. They work with skilled and licensed physicians and take on a lot of the workload in an emergency room. PAs can do most of the work of emergency department physicians, and therefore, their work here is much appreciated.

Urgent care

Urgent care teams treat conditions that require more care than a primary care provider can provide but are not serious enough to warrant being attended to by the Emergency Department. Patients who need urgent care are those whose illness is so debilitating that it cannot wait to be seen the next day by a primary care physician.

Urgent care clinics are usually handled by physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurses, and some clinics have visiting physicians. Unlike Emergency Departments, urgent care clinics might not be self-sufficient and will have to order lab tests and imaging tests.
Some conditions treated in urgent care

  • Minor to moderate abdominal pain
  • Bladder problems
  • Joint pain or arthritis
  • Bites and stings
  • Vomiting and persistent diarrhea
  • Asthma, wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Dehydration
  • Moderate flu-like symptoms
  • Ear, nose, and throat infections
  • Sinus problems
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • High blood pressure
  • Skin allergies, infections, and rashes
  • Abscesses, minor cuts, and minor burns
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Sprains and strains
  • Minor head injuries

Working as an urgent care physician assistant

There is a tremendous demand for urgent care PAs working in urgent care clinics because of these facilities’ high volume of work. Urgent care PAs must deal with a lot of stress because of the ever-increasing workload. They are also one of the highest-paid health care providers. Most PAs work in private clinics and state hospitals under the supervision of a licensed physician.

So while the terms’ urgent’ and ’emergency’ are synonymous, they are two entirely different types of care in a medical setting. The job role of a physician assistant in emergency medicine is very different from a physician assistant in urgent medicine.

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