When You Should Visit Urgent Care Versus an Emergency Room



Did you know that you have a choice when it comes to choosing where to go for urgent medical needs? Not every ailment or illness means you have to rush to the emergency room -- there are plenty of things you can go to urgent care for instead. You should go to the emergency room if there's a life-threatening medical issue, but otherwise, a trip to urgent care will help you fix your problem for a fraction of the cost and time you'd spend waiting in an overcrowded emergency room. In some cases, an urgent care center may even be linked up to an emergency room, so if your medical situation is deemed too serious for urgent care, they can transfer you and bill you for both services easily. Read on for more reasons you should be looking for urgent care centers in your area.

What Does Urgent Care Do?
Urgent care can be a great option if you have a medical issue that needs to be seen fairly quickly (or right away) and you can't get in touch with your usual doctor, due to late hours, too many appointments, or your doctor being away. And it's great for those late-night, early-morning, or weekend urgent medical needs that fall outside of a regular doctor's time frame. Urgent care provides another option to patients who don't want to sit in an emergency room waiting room.

Do keep in mind that urgent care does not equal emergency room -- if there's a life-threatening condition (symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, internal bleeding, concussions, severe broken bones, etc.), you should head straight to the emergency room.

However, for minor ailments and injuries, you can head to urgent care. Some urgent care needs include:
  • a minor fall or accident
  • a bad case of the flu or a high fever
  • rashes or infections
  • needing an X-ray or other lab test
  • sprains or strains
  • UTI (urinary tract infection)
  • minor broken bones or fractures

What are Some of the Benefits to Visiting Urgent Care?
You'll have a much shorter wait time in urgent care versus an emergency room, which can be of the essence if you have urgent medical needs that are uncomfortable, like a high fever or worrying skin rash. According to recent statistics, you'll wait around 15 minutes or less at 60% of all urgent care centers to see a physician or mid-level provider. And around 65% of these centers have a physician available in the building at all times.

A recent study that showed that around 44% to 65% of all ER cases could have easily been treated at an urgent care clinic. By visiting urgent care for these types of problems, you free up space in the emergency room and keep the ER staff from being overworked and potentially not providing the same level of patient care to each case.

Additionally, urgent care costs are much less than an emergency room visit. For example, a case that could have been treated in urgent care but that went to an emergency room instead would cost a little over $2,000 in the emergency room, versus a little over $200 at urgent care. That's huge savings -- and the care is the same quality. The ER doc is likely to tell you the same thing as an urgent care physician.

Where Can I Find an Urgent Care Center?
There are numerous urgent care centers all over the country -- over 9,000 walk-in, stand-alone clinics for your convenience. Additionally, about 50 to 100 new clinics open every year. Check online to see if there's one close to you -- it's good to know where they are should you need one. And with 20,000 physicians practicing urgent care medicine and helping develop it into an important and well-renowned specialty, that number of clinics is sure to only increase in the coming years.

If you or your family runs into any urgent medical needs, consider going to an urgent care center instead of an emergency room. You'll save yourself time, money, and receive quality medical care.