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Emergencies happen, and you are panicked and not sure where to go for treatment. A study found that between 13 to 27 percent of all emergency rooms could have been treated at a different facility, which would save about $4.4. billion annually.
If you are wondering if you should go to the ER vs urgent care center, here’s how to decide whether your medical problem is an emergency or an urgent matter.
Differences Between Emergency Rooms and Urgent Care
Both of these facilities address medical needs immediately, but there are distinct differences between the two. Urgent care or walk-in facilities take over or fill in when you are sick or injured and your primary care doctor is unavailable. If you would feel comfortable going to your doctor for your medical needs, you should probably choose the urgent care facility.
If you go to an urgent care facility with a true emergency, most likely, the staff will transfer you to an emergency room by ambulance. This adds another significant cost, so we’ll explain things that are an absolute life-threatening or limb-threatening emergency.
Emergency rooms handle more critical and complex medical conditions like heart attacks, sepsis, strokes, or traumatic injuries. Hospitals admit patients that need additional care or can perform emergency surgery if needed.
If the ER doctor thinks you should be at an urgent care facility, you could still be responsible for paying for the ER visit. The same holds true for your health insurance. Even if the facility is in-network, if your health insurance doesn’t feel your visit was a necessity, you could be left with the bill.
The Wait Can Vary
Another big difference between the two is the wait. Urgent care facilities may not have as many staff as an emergency room, but you may get seen sooner at urgent care.
If you go to an emergency room, the staff uses a triage system that gives priority to more severe cases. If a heart attack patient comes in while you are waiting to get treated for sinus problems, you will have to wait longer because the heart attack patient is given priority.
When You Should Go to Urgent Care
If you need care and cannot see your normal doctor, you should go to urgent care. These facilities evolved in the 1990s so people could have access to doctors on nights and weekends without crowding emergency room facilities.
You should only go to urgent care if your medical need is not life-threatening or risking disability.
Common problems to visit urgent care clinics for immediate medical assistance include:
- Common illnesses like sore throats, colds, and migraines
- Rashes without fevers
- Sprains or strains
- Ear infection
- Minor stitches
- Sinus problems
- Minor cuts or burns
- Minor eye injuries
- Back pain
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Urinary tract infection
- Minor allergies
Symptoms usually come on gradually with these conditions. You may even know what the issue is like a sinus infection. Urgent care facilities will treat your medical problem the same day so you don’t have to wait for care when your doctor’s office is open or you can get an appointment.
Urgent care centers also have x-ray machines and can do lab testing with bloodwork. They can also provide vaccines like flu shots or cast broken bones for a simple break. You should be able to find urgent care easily.
You should not replace your primary care doctor with urgent care because they don’t keep your medical records and provide services like wellness checks and physicals. These facilities are a replacement if your doctor is not available in the necessary time frame.
When You Should Go to the Emergency Room
There are some medical conditions that should be treated in a hospital setting because they are life-threatening or limb-threatening. These conditions require advanced treatments like surgery or need rapid treatment to prevent further damage.
If you or a loved one have any of these conditions, you should go to the emergency room:
- Difficulty breathing
- Head injury
- Chest pain especially on the left side
- Severe head or eye injuries
- High fevers with rash, especially for children
- Severe burns
- Change of mental state
- Slurred speech
- Numbness or weakness on one side
- Severe allergic reactions
- Severe flu symptoms
- Broken bones
- Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy
You should always trust your gut when deciding about the condition. If you feel you can’t wait to talk to a doctor, then you should probably head to an ER immediately.
Hospitals are ready for anything and can perform surgery, provide a specialist’s opinion, or complete an MRI or CAT Scan.
Remember, an ER bill will most likely run you at least $1,000, so try to think how urgent your condition is. Urgent care is usually less expensive, but they may send you out for true emergencies like the conditions above.
Some ailments are tough to call, and if you’re not sure, you may want to consider the emergency room to be safe because sometimes even trained medical professionals need to make the call for a badly broken bone.
Don’t hesitate if you have any serious injuries or conditions outlined above—go to the emergency room immediately.
ER Vs Urgent Care: Which to Choose?
When deciding about whether to go to the ER vs urgent care, think about if you can wait for treatment. If you would normally go to your primary doctor, you should go to urgent care if your doctor is unavailable. If there is no time to spare, head to the ER right away without a second thought.
It’s important to understand the differences, so you don’t get stuck with a large medical bill when it was unwarranted. You should always trust your gut and not make your decision solely based on the costs.
To help prevent illness and medical conditions, take a look at some of the other articles in our health and wellness areas for useful information on how to stay healthy. You can also find information on fitness, treating health conditions, and medications and supplements.