Medical emergencies can happen at any time, and knowing where to seek care can be the difference between life and death. But what happens when your symptoms are urgent, but not life-threatening? It can be confusing to decide between visiting an urgent care center or heading to the nearest emergency room.
Urgent care centers provide high-quality, convenient and affordable care for non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses that require timely medical attention. In contrast, emergency rooms typically offer 24/7 care for acute conditions or severe medical emergencies with expert care.
Research shows that as many as 18 million out of 27 million annual ER visits by privately insured individuals in the US could have been easily treated at urgent care centers or primary care physician offices! Additionally, treating non-emergency conditions at a hospital emergency room typically costs 12 times more than at a physician’s office, and 10 times more than at an urgent care center.
In this guide we will explore the crucial differences between urgent care centers and emergency rooms, helping you determine the most appropriate health care setting for your specific needs. Understanding this can save you time and money, and can help you get the most effective care for your condition.
When to Visit an Urgent Care Center?
Urgent care facilities or walk-in clinics are a good choice when you have a problem that needs attention quickly, but it’s not an emergency. These clinics can treat a wide variety of medical conditions, so you should consider visiting in the following situations:
Urgent care centers can treat minor injuries such as cuts, scrapes, or bruises. They can also treat sprains or strains from sports or other activities that don’t involve severe swelling or bone protrusion. If you have a broken bone that is jutting out of your skin, or you have severe bleeding that cannot be controlled with direct pressure, it’s best to go to the ER.
If you have a fever, flu, cold, ear infections, urinary tract infections, or minor allergic reactions, an urgent care center is an appropriate choice. They will offer quick medical attention for these types of illnesses, often with shorter wait times and at less expensive rates than the ER. The healthcare professionals at urgent care clinics like UrgentMED can also prescribe medications and offer recommendations for home care to help you feel better faster.
If you’re looking for a diagnostic service for certain health conditions, going to an urgent care provider is usually a prudent choice. Their services may include x-rays to diagnose bone fractures or pneumonia, lab tests to diagnose strep throat or UTIs, and electrocardiograms (EKGs) to evaluate heart function.
Since most walk-in clinics have on-site, fully-equipped laboratories, they can offer same-day evaluations and results. Plus, they almost always have a lower wait time and are more cost-effective than hospital ERs or traditional clinics for these types of diagnostic services.
Vaccinations and preventive care
In addition to treating minor injuries and illnesses, all UrgentMED clinics offer vaccinations and preventive screenings. Other urgent care providers may not offer these services, so make sure to call ahead and ask about their services.
Non-emergency follow-up care
If you have seen a doctor for a medical condition, but you still need to follow up or get further evaluation, visiting urgent care services can be a more convenient option. For example, if you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you might need to have blood tests or other evaluations done regularly. Rather than scheduling an appointment with your regular doctor, who may have a long waiting list or limited availability, you can visit an UrgentMED urgent care center any day of the week.
UrgentMED clinics have more flexible hours and can accommodate walk-ins, making it easier to get the care you need. All of our clinics have access to the same diagnostic tools and equipment as primary care offices, so you can get the same level of care without the hassle of scheduling an appointment in advance.
When your PCP is unavailable
If you need to see a doctor urgently for a non-life-threatening condition, but can’t get an appointment with your primary care physician (PCP), go to an urgent care clinic. Maybe you have an ingrown toenail that’s making it hard for you to wear your shoes, or you cut your finger while chopping vegetables, or maybe you just need a professional to remove the ear wax buildup. Health care providers at walk-in clinics are very experienced in these medical procedures.
UrgentMED clinics are open seven days a week and can provide you with quick medical attention for non-life-threatening conditions. Instead of waiting for days or weeks to see your regular primary care physician, you can be seen by an urgent care doctor the same day.
When to Visit an Emergency Room (ER)?
Hospital emergency rooms are medical facilities equipped to handle high-risk emergencies and severe medical conditions. You may seek emergency care near me in the following cases:
Severe chest pain or difficulty breathing
Symptoms of heart attack, pulmonary embolism, or other serious cardiovascular issues that require immediate attention may include chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or lightheadedness. These symptoms can indicate a life-threatening condition, which means you need to go to an ER right away.
Seizures lasting longer than five minutes
Prolonged seizures, also known as status epilepticus, can be deadly and require an emergency evaluation and treatment. These seizures can cause permanent brain damage, or even death, if left untreated. In the emergency department, neurologists can administer medications to stop the seizure and perform diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause.
Severe allergic reactions
If you are having trouble breathing, experiencing a rapid or weak pulse, or have severe swelling due to an allergic reaction, go to your nearest ER or call 911 as soon as possible. In some cases, an allergic reaction can cause anaphylaxis, which can lead to difficulty breathing, shock, and even death. An emergency room is better equipped to provide the necessary medical attention and treatment to stabilize your condition.
If you have a deep cut or injury that’s causing significant blood loss, you need medical attention immediately. A deep cut can sever an artery or cause significant blood loss, which can be lethal. Bleeding can be stopped by applying pressure, but sometimes it may require stitches, staples, or surgical intervention. Head to the emergency room for prompt medical intervention to avoid further complications.
Poisoning or overdose
If you or someone you know has ingested a toxic substance or taken a potentially dangerous amount of medication, going to the nearest emergency room or calling 911 is critical. Most hazardous substances can have serious, life-long effects on the body, such as seizures, breathing difficulties, or heart problems. The ER is equipped to help mitigate the effects of the substance and prevent further harm.
Burns can range from mild to severe, with the latter being potentially fatal. If you have a burn that covers a large area of your body, has penetrated deep layers of your skin, or involves your face, hands, or genitals, don’t wait for your primary care physician – go to an ER immediately. Burns in these areas can be particularly dangerous as they can cause long-term damage or disfigurement.
In cases of severe accidents or injuries, such as a head injury, broken bones, or potential internal injuries, go to the ER. These injuries may cause significant pain, bleeding, and damage to internal organs or bodily systems, and require timely medical intervention. ERs at big hospitals are staffed with emergency medicine physicians, burn specialists, plastic surgeons, and physical therapists, plus they have access to advanced diagnostic and treatment equipment to help manage these conditions.
A stroke is a critical medical emergency that occurs when the brain doesn’t receive sufficient blood flow. If you or someone around you experiences sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the body, difficulty speaking, severe headache, and loss of vision or balance, it could indicate a stroke. In such a situation, call 911 or go to an ER without delay. Time is of the essence when it comes to treating a stroke, and prompt medical intervention can significantly increase the chances of recovery.
Average Costs of Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room Visits
The cost difference between urgent care and emergency room visits can be significant. This is mainly because they treat different types of medical issues and offer different levels of care.
Urgent care centers usually help with less serious health problems, which is why they cost less. A visit to urgent care in Los Angeles, CA might cost you between $50 and $250, depending on what you need. They are poignant for treating small injuries, giving stitches, or doing simple tests like x-rays or blood tests.
Emergency rooms, on the other hand, are for serious and life-threatening issues. They have special equipment and staff to help with these cases, so they cost more. A visit to the ER can cost anywhere from $500 to over $3,000, depending on how serious the problem is and what kind of care is needed. The higher costs come from being open 24/7, having experts on staff, and using advanced medical tools.
When deciding whether to go to urgent care or the ER, think about the level of care you need. Urgent care visits for smaller problems can save you time and money, and it also helps keep emergency services free for those who really need them. But if you’re dealing with a serious, potentially fatal issue, don’t hesitate to go to the ER right away. Your health and safety are what matter most.
How to Make the Right Decision?
Choosing between urgent care and an emergency room is important because it not only helps you get the right care, but also makes the best use of healthcare resources. Here are some tips to guide your decision:
Focus on how serious your health problem is
For a very serious condition, like chest pain, trouble breathing, heavy bleeding, or signs of a stroke, go to the ER right away. If your problem is less serious, like a small injury, infection, or flu-like symptoms, an urgent care center is a better choice. These centers are made for health issues that are not dire but still need quick attention. Going to urgent care for these problems can save you time and money compared to the ER.
Think about how long you might wait
Urgent care centers are equipped to provide fast and easy healthcare for smaller medical issues, so you usually don’t have to wait as long as you might at an emergency room. You can usually walk in, be seen by a doctor, and go on your way — all in less than an hour. Emergency rooms, on the other hand, put people with life-threatening or severe health conditions or symptoms first. This can make the estimated wait times longer for others.
Know your local choices
Look up the urgent care centers and hospital emergency rooms close to you so you can figure out which ones are best for different health problems. For example, some urgent care services might focus on bone issues, while certain ERs could be better for conditions like a head injury after an accident or a stroke. We also recommend keeping their phone numbers handy; this way you can call them before visiting in case you have any questions about health insurance coverage.
Listen to your gut feeling
We tell all our patients that if they are not sure how serious their issue is, err on the side of caution and go to an emergency room. This is important because when dealing with potentially serious health problems, getting help quickly can make things better, stop things from getting worse, and even save lives. Going to the ER right away makes sure you get the help you need fast.
Consider how much it will cost
“How much is this going to cost me?” is often a pressing question when you are considering going to a doctor. Urgent care services will usually cost a small fraction of what you’d pay at an emergency room. The costs are so low that even if you don’t have an insurance health plan, you can easily pay out of pocket. Going to an ER when you don’t have a significant health problem can make your medical bills much higher than if you went to an urgent care center instead.
When it’s Urgent But Not an Emergency, Turn to UrgentMED
UrgentMED has one of the most trusted networks of walk-in clinics in Southern California, with numerous locations throughout Beverly Hills, Anaheim, Hollywood, Fairfax, Culver City, Brentwood, Orange, Mar Vista, Santa Monica, Huntington Park, Glendale, West Hills, Carlsbad, Pico Rivera, Eagle Rock, and more.
Each location is open 7 days a week with extended business hours, and offers budget-friendly medical care for a wide range of common ailments. Whether you need to quickly see a licensed physician for injuries or checkups, or you want to get a preventative health screening, UrgentMED has got you covered. Click here to find the nearest UrgentMED center.