Urgent care centers are quickly spreading across the country as an affordable option for medical treatment, especially when your regular doctor office isn’t open. However, you need to know the differences between urgent care and the emergency room.
The ER is for life-threatening situations, although many people go there even if it’s not an emergency. According to one study, nearly half of ER patients whose illness didn’t warrant being admitted to the hospital had gone to the ER just because their doctor’s office wasn’t open.
“Urgent care would have been more appropriate — and less expensive. Out-of-pocket costs are likely lower than for an ER visit, especially if the facility is in your health insurance network.
Realize, too, that the emergency department treats people in order of need, so you may have a longer wait time. Urgent care centers usually see people on a first-come, first-served basis.”
Here are some examples of reasons to visit an urgent care clinic:
- Fever and flu symptoms.
- Rashes and ear infections.
- Routine exams and lab work.
- Minor injury.
- Stomach pain.
- Severe sore throat.
“More serious problems, like severe pain and difficulty breathing, as well as traumatic injuries, do need screening and treatment at the ER.
In serious emergencies, driving to the ER won’t get you help fast enough. It’s safer to call 911, especially in life-threatening situations. Paramedics can start care immediately.”
Here are some reasons to go to the ER:
- Severe bleeding or pain.
- Chest pain, shortness of breath or wheezing
- Any sign of stroke, including paralysis, difficulty speaking, altered mental status or confusion.
- High fever or fever with a rash.
- Serious burns, cuts, dislocated joints or broken bones.
- Serious fall or an injury involving the head or eyes.
- Severe headache or loss of vision that comes on suddenly.
“If you’re unsure what constitutes an emergency or what costs will be covered, contact your insurer before you need any of these services. If you’re ever in doubt, go to your closest ER. But if the problem is simply that you just can’t reach your doctor, consider urgent care.”