Picture this: You need a doctor, but your regular physician isn’t available. Maybe it’s a weekend, or the middle of the night. Maybe he or she is off for the week, taking a well-deserved vacation. Where do you go for medical attention?
In the past, the obvious solution has been to visit the Emergency Room. But that’s not always the best choice. Rising healthcare costs mean that the ER is simply too expensive for non-life-threatening concerns. Additionally, Emergency Rooms, as their name suggests, prioritize emergencies. For some ER patients, immediate treatment is as a matter of life or death. Unsurprisingly, then, if you show up with a twisted ankle or a stomach virus, or even a broken bone, you might find yourself stuck in the waiting room for a long time.
In a situation like that, you’re likely better served going to an Urgent Care Center. Urgent Cares treat more routine illnesses and injuries. They can take care of broken bones, administer stitches, and treat coughs and fevers. They don’t deal with life-threatening emergencies, so they don’t have to prioritize anyone, meaning that your wait time is much shorter. And they tend to be significantly cheaper. The average cost of a trip to an Urgent Care Center is $150; the average cost of a trip to the ER is $1354.
How do you know which to go to? Hospitals estimate that more than half the patients in the ER don’t need to be there. However, if you are severely injured, you need to go to the ER. If you need an ambulance, you need to go to the ER (ambulances don’t go to Urgent Cares.) And if you are having trouble breathing, or experiencing chest pain, sudden numbness, fainting, or seizures, go to the ER, as these things can be symptomatic of something serious.
Also, check with your insurance provider. While Emergency Rooms are generally cheaper, some insurance providers help pay for hospital visits but not visits to the Urgent Care. Or, they may only pay for Urgent Cares that are associated with a hospital. Urgent Cares are a great resource, but unfortunately, they do not work for all insurance plans.
Lastly, don’t get confused by free-standing ERs. These can seem like Urgent Cares, since they’re not part of a hospital complex. However, they function just like regular ERs, so people with non-emergency cases will be met with the same wait times and high costs that they would encounter at a regular hospital.