When to go to an Urgent Care Center vs. an Emergency Room

Ever wonder why waiting areas at emergency rooms (ER) are always full? Or why people wait for hours for medical attention? One of the major reasons this happens is because millions of Americans each year use emergency rooms for routine medical care. Going to an ER for non-emergency medical conditions is also a major contributor to the rising cost of health care.

It’s estimated that more than $18 billion could be saved each year if people with non-urgent conditions went to their Primary Care Physician (PCP) or an Urgent Care (UC) center instead of an ER – $18 BILLION! That’s a lot of money!

Going to an ER for non-emergencies wastes a lot of money and medical resources. However, the true tragedy is that you can usually get more appropriate care for non-urgent conditions in a doctor’s office or UC center. 

In the case of an emergency, you shouldn’t hesitate to go to an ER, but if your condition isn’t an emergency, check with your doctor first or go to an UC center.

One of the best ways to reduce health care costs is to limit trips to an ER to true life-threatening emergencies and visit your PCP for routine care or an UC center for non-urgent conditions. This is a healthy way to keep health care affordable!

Why Urgent Care?

Urgent care (UC) centers are a great option when access to a PCP is limited after hours or on weekends. UC centers see patients on a first-come-first-serve basis, whereas ERs see patients based on the severity of the condition. UC centers are a hybrid between a PCP and an ER, with 2 exceptions:

  •  UC centers don’t keep medical histories (unlike a PCP)
  • UC centers don’t have sophisticated medical equipment or staff with specialized expertise (unlike an ER)

UC centers do have x-ray machines, can perform lab tests, and have most of the equipment needed for treating non-urgent medical conditions, such as flu shots, blood sugar tests, and casting for broken bones. 

Emergency Room or Urgent Care Center?

To decide whether to go to an ER and UC center, ask yourself this question: Why am I going?

Visit your PCP or an UC center if you have a non-urgent condition, such as:

  • Fever
  • Flu symptoms
  • Bronchitis
  • Allergies
  • Ear infection
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Minor cuts that require stitches
  •  Animal bites
  • Sprains or broken bones

On average, the wait time and cost of going to an UC center versus the ER are much lower. In 2013, the average cost of an UC visit varied from $50 to $150 per visit. 

Visit an ER if you have an extreme or emergency condition, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Severe chest pain
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe head or eye injury
  • Severe burns
  • Electric shock

An ER has more resources and services available than an UC center, which make the ER a much better choice for extreme or emergency medical conditions like those listed above. In 2013, the average cost of an ER visit varied from $1,233 to $2,168 per visit.


Save the ER for Emergencies

Emergency Room vs Urgent Care