What is urgent care?

What is urgent care?

Urgent care is medical care for an urgent problem that is not life threatening. Examples of life-threatening emergencies include a heart attack or a serious head injury. These require a visit to the Emergency Room (ER). Urgent Care centers such as such as ours, Aspen Medical Center in Santa Fe and Aspen Urgent Care in Espanola, New Mexico, are setup to assist patients with an illness or injury that does not appear to be life–threatening, but also can’t wait until the next day.


When faced with a medical problem that requires immediate care, it is sometimes difficult to determine if it is truly an emergency, or if it is an urgent care issue.

What is considered an emergency?

Urgent care is not a substitute for emergency care. In general, an emergency medical condition is one that can quickly endanger the life or limb of an individual.

Some examples of conditions requiring a visit to the ER include:

  • Compound or open fracture (bone protruding through skin)

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Fever in a newborn (less than 1 month old)

  • Heavy, uncontrollable bleeding

  • Extensive or severe burns

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Severe chest pain or difficulty breathing

  • Signs of a heart attack (e.g. chest pain lasting longer than two minutes, possibly associated with shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, and/or pain radiating into the arm or jaw)

  • Signs of a stroke (e.g. sudden numbness, loss of vision, one-sided weakness, slurred speech, or confusion)

Dial 911 without delay for any medical problem that appears to be immediately life-threatening.

ER visits are necessary for true emergencies, such as chest pain that is potentially a heart attack and severe injuries. Minor injuries and illnesses can be evaluated by our urgent care providers.

What conditions are appropriate to treat at an urgent care center?

Urgent health concerns are not considered emergencies but still benefit from prompt evaluation and treatment. Some examples of such conditions include:

  • Accidents and falls

  • Cuts that might require stitches

  • Breathing difficulties (e.g. mild to moderate asthma)

  • Eye irritation and redness

  • Earaches

  • Allergies

  • Fever or flu-like symptoms

  • Sprains, strains, and minor broken bones and fractures

  • Moderate back problems

  • Sore throat or cough

  • Skin rashes and infections

  • Urinary tract infections

  • STD testing

  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea

The average cost of an ER visit is $2,250 according to insurer Cigna. In contrast, urgent care visits average $170. If one has an urgent care need, it is reasonable to visit an urgent care center first. However, if you are uncertain, it is always best to err on the side of caution and visit the ER if you think you might have a true emergency medical condition.

Aspen Medical Center here in Santa Fe and Aspen Urgent Care in Espanola, New Mexico provide urgent care services seven days a week. Aspen Medical Center is certified by the Urgent Care Association of America. We have x-ray and laboratory services on site. Our commitment to compassionate and convenient patient care ensure that patients with urgent medical needs receive the best medical expertise days, nights, weekends and most holidays.

Andrew Ropp, MD

Medical Director