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Urgent Care or Emergency Room? How to Choose

Urgent Care or Emergency RoomWhat comes to mind when you think of an urgent care clinic? Many people may imagine a stand-alone emergency room (ER). Some people may even use the two terms interchangeably. Even though both medical services have similarities, they also have a few key differences that are important to know in case of an emergency. Keep reading to learn about the similarities and differences between an urgent care and emergency room to determine which one will best meet your needs.

Similarities between Urgent Care and Emergency Room

Both urgent care and ER services share some similarities that make it easy for many people to confuse one with the other.

  • Immediate Care. As their names imply, both facilities specialize in providing medical care as quickly as possible. If you have a medical situation or accident that cannot wait for a traditional doctor’s appointment, the staff in each facility can provide you with medical care immediately.
  • Flexible Staff. The healthcare providers who work in urgent care centers and ERs are trained to deal with a variety of illnesses and injuries. Because both medical services prioritize immediate care for any situation, these experts will treat a wide variety of conditions.
  • Availability. Both services are available at times when traditional physician access is not an option, such as evenings and weekends. Even though urgent care clinics have set schedules and ERs are open 24/7, they both aim for extra availability.

Differences between Urgent Care and ER

A few important differences:

  • Scope of Services. Most people who use urgent care centers generally come in for minor illnesses, injuries, and conditions that can be treated by a physician or nurse practitioner. The healthcare providers at clinics, often times, do not have the training and/or equipment to deal with complex, life-threatening conditions. Conditions such as chest pain, slurred speech or weakness (stroke symptoms), trouble breathing, serious burns, etc. are best treated in an emergency room.
  • Cost Differences. ER services are much more expensive due to several factors, including fees for staff which can include consultants, and equipment, higher insurance co-pays, and more. Urgent cares provide services for less serious conditions at a more affordable price. Consider your situation carefully because you could end up potentially paying thousands of dollars more for care that did not require an ER.
  • Wait Times. Even though both services specialize in fast care, your wait time could be dramatically different depending on the situation. You could wait many hours to get a few stitches on your finger or tested for strep throat. ERs utilize a triage system that prioritizes people with more emergent conditions. Someone potentially having a heart attack will always go ahead of someone with a small cut or sore throat.

Even though urgent care clinics and ERs focus on immediate treatment, they each have strengths and weaknesses depending on the situation. Knowing which one to choose can make a significant difference in the type of care you receive, how long you wait, and how much you end up paying.

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