Let’s face it. No one likes getting sick or injured and having to even think about the Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room debate. It’s inconvenient, it’s usually painful, and it’s just no fun.
Sometimes, you’ll sprain your ankle. Other times, you’ll have a cold that really worries you.
During these times, you will need to go somewhere to get care. Since your regular doctor may not be available, the best options are usually either Urgent Care or the Emergency Room.
However, you might be confused at times about which one you should choose. A lot of people think the two are the same, but this is actually not the case.
Knowing the ins-and-outs of Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room care can help you make the right choice in each situation.
Differences Between Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room Care
In an emergency, it is beneficial to know the differences between Urgent Care and the Emergency Room. In fact, knowing the difference could actually prove to be a lifesaver. It may seem confusing because both are named in such a way that implies urgency in care.
However, they are not the same. In learning about Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room care, you should know that there are significant differences in terms of the level of care that you can expect.
When to go to Urgent Care
Basically, if you become injured or sick but are not able to go to your regular doctor, you should go to Urgent Care.
Urgent Care is appropriate for injuries or illnesses that you would normally address with your primary care doctor in situations where you are not able to make an appointment with him or her.
There are many situations where you may not be able to go to your primary physician. Maybe you can’t make an appointment that same day, or maybe it’s an evening or weekend.
Urgent Care Centers are often open on evenings and weekends.
You should be aware, however, that Urgent Care Centers are not adequately staffed and equipped for more complex medical needs. That is one reason why it’s good to learn about Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room care.
In these more complex and severe situations, you would be better off going to the ER.
When to go to the ER
As useful as Urgent Care Centers can be, there are certain treatments that you cannot get there. If you need some sort of rapid or advanced treatment, such as surgery, you can only get it in a hospital setting. This means you have to go to the Emergency Room.
The following symptoms likely mean you need to go to the Emergency Room:
- Difficulty breathing or chest pains
- Slurred speech
- Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
- Eye or head injuries
- Serious burns
- Change in mental state or fainting
- Confusion or concussion
- Fever with a rash
- Dislocated joints and broken bones
- Severe cuts that could potentially require stitches
- Facial lacerations
- Vaginal bleeding in cases of pregnancy
- Severe cold or flu symptoms
If you or your child have any of the symptoms on this list or any others that seem severe and needing urgent attention, you should go to the Emergency Room. Any situation that could not be handled by your family doctor should go to the emergency room.
Benefits of the Emergency Room
Of course, you know that there are advantages associated with going to the Emergency Room. There are clear reasons why the Emergency Room would be the winner in the battle of Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room care when you have a severe injury. It would be good, however, to learn more about the specifics.
More comprehensive facilities
Since Emergency Rooms are located in hospitals, there are many resources that their physicians will have that those at stand-alone clinics will not. For example, there are operating rooms, radiology labs, and access to all sorts of surgical equipment that would not exist in an Urgent Care Center.
You can have a variety of tests done that you cannot have if you go to Urgent Care. These include ultrasounds, MRIs, and CAT scans, among others. Additionally, there are doctors across many medical disciplines at the ER. They can lend their expertise if it is needed.
The safer alternative in severe situations
If you are having a medical crisis that needs drastic intervention, an Emergency Room will likely be the best choice. Even if you go to an Urgent Care Center, if you are severely ill, they will quickly send you to an emergency department.
However, if your situation is truly dire, this can be dangerous. The lost time between your arrival at the Urgent Care Center and your dispatch to the Emergency Room could end up being harmful or potentially even fatal. In some emergencies, every minute, or even every second, counts.
This is why you want to know everything you can about the difference between Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room care. When the situation comes up, you want to make the right decision on the first try.
If you have a severe wound or are at risk of amputation, you will likely want to choose an Emergency Room. If you have a life or limb threatening condition, you won’t want to waste time going to Urgent Care. They likely won’t be able to help you and will refer you to an Emergency Room anyway, by which time you will have lost precious time in transit.
Benefits of Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room Care in Non-Emergent Situations
However, just because an Emergency Room has more facilities than an Urgent Care Center, you should not automatically assume that it is the right choice.
Choosing the Emergency Room every time could end up costing you more than you can afford. There are many advantages that come with choosing an Urgent Care Center in the appropriate situation.
Ain’t nobody got time for that
Have you ever been to an Emergency Room and had to wait for hours? You might even wonder why they call it an Emergency Room when it doesn’t seem like they are treating your situation like an emergency.
However, this is the situation because emergency rooms have to handle patients in order of severity. Someone with a gunshot wound to the chest, for example, would have to receive prompt attention; as such, this patient would definitely take precedence over someone who is coming in with a toothache.
In general, you won’t have to wait very long if you go to an Urgent Care Center. Most of the patients there do not require the level of treatment that patients ahead of you in line at the Emergency Room generally will.
Additionally, these clinics specialize in minor emergencies and will be more likely to treat your minor condition promptly. Physicians at one of these clinics can also make the appropriate referrals if you need more specialized care or emergency care.
That’s the sound of your wallet crying
Another consideration is definitely money. When you go to the Emergency Room, you will likely have to pay more than you would for an Urgent Care visit.
However, if you overuse the Emergency Room, you may have to deal with higher costs, not to mention rate increases for your insurance premiums. That is just one more reason why you should know what there is to know when it comes to Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room.
Costs of Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room Visits
Even though it might seem like intuitive knowledge that an emergency room visit would be more expensive than a trip to the Urgent Care Center, you might be wondering exactly what the price difference is.
According to the National Institute of Health, the average Emergency Room visit costs over $1,200. However, some estimates even go up to nearly $2,200. In contrast, the average visit to an Urgent Care Center will usually be between $50 and $150. Many people will go to the Emergency Room when they could simply go to Urgent Care. In fact, according to the New England Health Institute, about 56 percent of Emergency Room visits are completely avoidable.
If you are uninsured, where you should go may depend on how much you are able to pay out-of-pocket. Urgent Care will almost always be cheaper, but they generally require cash upfront. Emergency Rooms, on the other hand, are usually required to attend to your emergent needs even if you do not have cash. However, there are situations where they will not have to, as in the case of private hospitals and inadequately equipped outpatient clinics.
Medical debt is actually a substantial problem. An estimated 18 billion dollars could be saved each year if people were to utilize other options instead of using Emergency Rooms as their default.
Now That You Know Where to Go for Medical Care…
You will be well equipped to make the right choice when considering Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room care. As you have seen, the main thing to keep in mind is what kind of ailment you have. You want to make a choice where your ailment will be addressed, but you won’t have to invest an inordinate amount of time and energy.
You should also make sure that you are not spending too much money. However, if you do need to go to the Emergency Room, this is unavoidable. In any situation, whether you have a broken arm or can’t stop vomiting, you should use your judgment to decide where you need to go.
Tell us about your experiences using Urgent Care facilities and Emergency Rooms in the comments below.