Most people know when they need to see a specialist. If you catch a cold or you’re down with the flu, you’d see your primary care physician (PCP), if at all. The doctor knows all about your health history and can resolve some minor health issues.
But what happens when you have a cut that won’t stop bleeding? Or you’ve been experiencing headaches for a week? Or you’ve got a minor fracture? Or a terrible rash? Most people would head to the nearest emergency room right away. But is that always the right choice?
What’s the Difference?
There are many differences between these two facilities. Let’s start with the most important: the level of care you can receive in each one of them.
In the event that you’re severely injured or you’re suffering from a condition that puts your life in danger, the best choice is to go straight to the emergency room of your local hospital. There are more specialists on staff at the ER who are able to provide immediate care. They will prioritize the most serious cases first but you’ll be taken care of sooner or later, even if you need something more complicated, such as a surgery.
On the other hand, if you’re facing an issue that needs treatment on the same day, but it’s not life-threatening, an urgent care clinic may be your best bet. As you know, you won’t be able to get an appointment with your PCP on the same day, who will refer you to an urgent care center or hospital anyway.
To sum up, here’s the key difference between urgent care and emergency room. If your injury or health problem is so serious that it can’t wait and your life may be threatened, you should visit an emergency room. If your life isn’t in danger and you’re able to wait for a short time to see a specialist, then go to an urgent care clinic.
Types of Injuries and Where to Treat Them
Here’s a list of the most common injuries and where you should get it looked at.
Urgent Care Clinic
If you’re experiencing some of these problems, you should go to the nearest urgent care clinic for a check-up.
- Skin issues: minor burns, rashes, irritations, lacerations
- Sprained ankle, minor fractures, back pain
- ENT issues: sore throat, earache, nose bleeds, minor breathing difficulty, persistent cough
- Stomach issues: vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea
Urgent care clinics are usually well-equipped with the necessary medical personnel and machines. The doctors can give you a diagnosis and treat a wide variety of medical conditions, as long as your life is not at risk.
You should go directly to an emergency room for the following potentially life-threatening conditions:
- You can’t breathe
- You have chest pain
- You’re having a stroke
- You’ve lost your vision
- You’re bleeding uncontrollably
- You’ve injured your head
- You’ve had a seizure
- You’ve had a spinal injury
- Your limb is at risk
Also, there are some cases when it’s better to call 911 than to go to an ER. A heart attack or a stroke may be good enough reason not to drive to the hospital, but to call the paramedics.
If you’re still not sure whether to go to an urgent care clinic or to an ER, doctors say it’s better to be safe than sorry. The ER should be your choice whenever you’re uncertain about how serious your condition is.
How Long Will You Have to Wait?
There’s a huge difference between the average visit duration for an urgent care clinic and an emergency room. This may be due to the fact that many people go to the ER even when their symptoms are not very serious. Emergency rooms are open 24/7 so many people will go there when they don’t have another option.
There are studies that show that emergency rooms were often overcrowded because other care providers weren’t available at the time their patients needed them. Almost 50% of people who participated in a survey claimed they went to an emergency room only because they didn’t have access to their doctor.
All of this means that only around 12.5% of patients who went to an ER received medical attention within the first hour upon their arrival. Around 71% of patients had to wait 4 hours to get the medical attention they needed. However, as mentioned earlier, if you have a serious gunshot wound, you can count on being served first.
In contrast, most patients who chose to go to an urgent care facility spent less than an hour waiting before receiving treatment. Less than 12% of patients had to wait for more than 60 minutes to see a doctor.
The Cost of Medical Emergencies
There’s also a difference in medical treatment costs, which may not be negligible for many. Health insurance can sometimes have a huge impact on deciding where to look for medical help.
Typically, a visit to an urgent care clinic will cost less than going to an emergency room. Even though they’re equipped to treat many conditions, urgent care centers charge lower than hospital rates because they are not hospitals, unlike emergency rooms, which are mostly operated by major regional hospitals with a separate entrance on the hospital ground. According to some sources, the average cost for a visit to an urgent care center is around $200, as compared to around $1,400 for the ER.
Going to the ER can be pretty expensive. An ambulance ride can cost up to $1,200 depending on the distance of travel, as they charge by the mile. This, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to an ER if something life-threatening happens to you. ERs are required by law to treat everyone regardless of health insurance or financial standings, which may not always be the case with urgent care centers.
Will There Be a Movie or TV Show About Urgent Care Soon?
In short, there’s a significant difference between urgent care and emergency room. Emergency rooms take care of injuries and conditions that put your life or your limb at risk. You may wait longer and pay more for this service, but it’s the only way to be sure you’ll be provided all the medical care your condition requires. For less serious injuries and other health issues, you should go to an urgent care center, if you’re not willing to wait for an appointment to see your PCP.
Whatever your injury, the key is to be well-informed. This is something you should prepare for in advance so that you make the best possible choices in case of an emergency.