Sydney is a contributing health writer and editor who enjoys shedding light on health topics, making information available to anyone who wants it, and ending stigmas or lack of access to care and treatment.
Po-Chang Hsu, M.D.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University. Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel.
March 17, 2021
Go to urgent care for mild to moderate injuries that are not immediately life-threatening, like broken bones or large cuts with controllable bleeding. An emergency room should be used for anything more serious, like a heart attack or a cut with uncontrollable bleeding.
If you’ve just had a biking accident and find yourself with what you think is a broken ankle, you might think it’s time to rush to the emergency room. After they assess the injury and give you the proper treatment for the broken bone, you’ll be stuck with a huge hospital bill. On average urgent care centers are much more affordable and in many cases are the better option.
Read on to learn when you should go to urgent care vs. the emergency room.
Did you know that you could get the same high-quality medical help at an urgent care clinic for a fraction of the price? Urgent care facilities are a great resource to have on hand for medical situations. Let’s review urgent care vs. ER basics, and determine which situations warrant a visit to each.
Emergency Rooms basics include:
Consider urgent care offices as enhanced walk-in clinics with the ability to treat more serious illnesses. Some basics of urgent care clinics include:
The rule of thumb when considering an urgent care vs. an emergency room visit is that if your life is not in danger, but you need to be seen within that same day, you’re probably in good hands at an urgent care clinic. If you are suffering from serious bodily harm, anything that might need emergency surgery or something that could cause permanent damage if not attended to immediately, make your way to the ER.
Choosing between urgent care vs. emergency room is sometimes a tough choice, but it’s important to know when to seek out the most extreme help (emergency room) or when you can sit on your medical issue for a few hours to a day.
It’s also important to consider other healthcare options like:
Urgent care is better in some cases, and your primary doctor’s office is better in others.
Unlike primary care offices, urgent care is available on weekends, late into the evening, and on holidays. The average urgent care office is open for nearly 13 hours a day, every day of the week.
Your primary care doctor will have your medical history on hand and is usually in your insurance network. In most non-emergency cases, it’s better to go to your primary doctor. If your doctor is booked or closed, urgent care facilities are a great option to receive care, get treated, and get prescriptions for the medicine you need immediately.
If you’re experiencing one of the following conditions or ailments, you can probably go to a local urgent care center to get medical help as long as it isn’t life-threatening.
Most urgent care centers can:
Remember these services when considering an urgent care vs. emergency room visit, but always go with the emergency room if your concern is a true medical emergency or life-threatening.
According to the U.S. Government Division of Health Care Statistics, only 15 percent of the patients seen in the emergency room are true medical emergencies. That means that 85 percent of ER patients could have sought treatment at urgent care, spent less money and time, and cleared the way for other patient’s life-threatening emergencies.
It’s the last place anyone wants to go and the first place people want to leave, so make sure this is really where you need to be if you are going. Some of the conditions, ailments, or illnesses that could land you in the ER are:
If you feel like you’re having an emergency, even if it’s not listed above, please seek medical attention immediately. If you suspect your condition is life-threatening, choose the ER when debating urgent care vs. emergency room.
If you’re facing a non-emergency medical issue, many professionals will suggest a visit to urgent care over the emergency room. Urgent care is often far cheaper than emergency room visits. But, unlike the hospital’s treat-now-pay-later policy, you’ll usually have to pay before leaving an urgent care facility.
Depending on the nature of your visit and the specific facility you’re visiting, they may be able to work out a payment plan for you. The average urgent care visit costs patients between $70 and $125. This is a 90% reduction compared to a trip to the ER.
Here’s what you can expect to pay for some of the more common ailments and conditions seen in urgent care clinics.
|Condition||Emergency Room Cost||Urgent Care Cost|
You can save hundreds of dollars by choosing urgent care vs. emergency room. On top of that, many urgent care clinics have generic prescriptions available and can fill them in the office, leaving you with one less stop to make. Generic prescriptions have the same active ingredients as the name brand version at a fraction of the cost.
Though emergency rooms are the best place for treating urgent and serious medical issues, they come at a cost. Taking a ground ambulance to the hospital can cost you around $450 after insurance, while an air ambulance can cost over $20,000. While prices can range dramatically depending on your insurance plan, here are some of the average prices for a trip to the emergency room.
|Condition||Emergency Room Cost|
|Heart attack/chest pain||$1,000|
The main difference between urgent care vs. emergency room costs is what you’re being seen for. The emergency room should be reserved for severe or life-threatening conditions only. Urgent care is a great option for those who can’t make it to their primary care doctor due to lack of availability but need immediate medical advice.
The emergency room cannot turn anyone away, even if they don’t have health insurance. People without health insurance often choose to use the emergency room as their main “doctor’s office,” even though urgent care is much more affordable.
Many times, going to an urgent care clinic without insurance is cheaper than going to an ER with insurance.
Choosing between an urgent care vs. emergency room visit can be stressful, but use the rule of thumb that if your life could be in danger, go to the emergency room.
If you need a prescription fast or want to speak to a doctor immediately, online telehealth options are a great option. Although you shouldn’t seek out help from an online doctor for a life-threatening emergency, there are circumstances where getting a doctor’s advice, diagnosis, or prescription quickly online is a good choice. You can book appointments with top online doctors through our sister site PlushCare.
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