Urgent Care vs Emergency Room: Which One Should You Visit?

| Patient Education

Illness, injury, or worse can occur at any moment, forcing you to make a quick decision about whether you should visit urgent care or the emergency room. Both urgent care and emergency room are equipped to offer after-hours care when your primary doctor is unavailable.

Before making a decision, consider the severity of your symptoms and the level of care you require.

Should You Visit the Urgent Care Walk-In Clinic or the Emergency Room?

What Does the Urgent Care Treat?

Symptom Severity Level - Mild

  • Mild Allergic reactions
  • Animal/bug bites, deep cuts
  • Cough or congestion
  • Sinus or ear pain
  • Fractures, sprains, dislocated joints
  • Mild back pain
  • Mild fevers, nausea, vomiting
  • Mild abdominal pain
  • Minor burns
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Rashes
  • Throat pain

What Does the Emergency Room Treat?

Symptom Severity Level - High

  • Broken bones
  • Babies needing immediate care
  • Extreme pain
  • High fever (101F+)
  • Intestinal bleeding
  • Loss of consciousness or vision
  • Overdose
  • Paralysis
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Severe eye or head injury
  • Severe burns
  • Severe allergic reaction or poisoning

Urgent Care vs Emergency Room: 3 Important Differences

Understanding the main differences between what urgent care treats and what the emergency room treats will help you make an immediate decision when necessary.

But, what other considerations should you have when choosing where to go?

1. The ER is Equipped to Diagnose & Treat Severe Situations

Situations requiring immediate attention can be treated at both urgent care and the emergency room.

But, when faced with severe symptoms, the emergency room is better suited to fully diagnose and treat the source of your pain.

Emergency rooms contain the full spectrum of equipment needed for diagnoses such as computed radiography (CR) and magnetic resonance imaging machines (MRI).

Your local urgent care may carry the equipment necessary to take preliminary x-rays but not perform more in-depth analysis.

Rest assured that urgent care facilities will send you to the emergency room if they’re not capable of addressing your needs.

2. Your Cost May Be Higher at the Emergency Room vs Urgent Care

If you are not experiencing a life-threatening situation, a visit to the emergency room may cost you more than you were hoping to spend.

Emergency rooms are required by law to treat and stabilize any patient regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. This results in acceptance of any and all patients even when their symptoms don’t warrant ER care.

ER care is vastly more expensive due to the type of medical staff available and the equipment used. Insurance companies will rely on the Prudent Layperson Standard (PLS) to assess whether or not they are going to cover the cost of your visit.

Patients may also find that cost transparency isn’t possible prior to the visit as the level of care is determined by the doctor after diagnosis. The result is an unnecessarily high bill that burdens the patient and frustrating collection calls from companies seeking to recover the cost of the visit when the patient cannot pay.

An urgent care, on the other hand, may have a fixed initial cost ranging between $100-$150 with extra charges being added for x-rays or lab tests.

Helpful Tip: The cost of most local urgent care visits is posted on your provider's website. Feel free to call them before your visit if the information is not readily available.

3. Your Wait Time May Be Longer at the Emergency Room

ER nurses and doctors are responsible for triaging or assigning degrees of urgency to every patient that visits the hospital. As a result, less severe patients may find themselves waiting much longer in the emergency room vs the urgent care.

Urgent care clinics have much lower wait times because they mainly treat mild symptoms. Their patients do not require lengthy or complicated care, meaning they’re out the door quicker than if they visited an emergency room.

Consider a Primary Care Physician

A study by the CDC concluded that 79.7% of adults visited emergency rooms due to a lack of access to other providers for preventative treatment.

Consider scheduling an appointment with one of Schneck’s primary care providers and prevent emergency room visits.

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