Urgent Care Vs. Emergency Room - Here’s Difference

By: Meredith Miller
Published: Wednesday, December 12 2018
Last Updated: a month ago

Most of your health needs will be overseen by your primary care doctor, which usually goes something like this. You schedule an appointment, experience a minor wait time, your doctor submits your claim, and you go on with your day. However, what happens when you are experiencing a medical emergency like severe chest pain? Obviously, you can’t wait to schedule an appointment, you need attention now, which begs the age-old question, do you make your way to urgent care or the emergency room?

Urgent Care Vs. Emergency Room

At first glance, you may not think there’s a difference between the two, but in reality, urgent care and the emergency room (ER) serve two completely separate purposes. Essentially it boils down to the severity of your situation. If you are experiencing a nonlife-threatening medical condition, then you should head to urgent care. On the other hand, if you are experiencing a life-threatening condition, it’s important you seek out attention through an emergency room.

While numbers are always changing, there are approximately 5,200 emergency rooms in the US, while there are about 7,700 urgent care centers. With the primary purpose of the ER being to help those experiencing emergency medical conditions, urgent care serves more of a primary care role if your doctor isn’t available.

Is There A Difference In Cost?

While it’s hard to find current numbers, there is data that suggests the cost of visiting the emergency room is significantly more seeking out medical services at urgent care. Debt.org took a look into some routine services at both emergency rooms and urgent care centers, and the difference was staggering.

At urgent care, conditions like allergies and pink cost just around $100, but anywhere from $345 to $370 at the emergency room for the same service. The disparity grew even larger with additional services other services. For example, sore throats and urinary tract infections at urgent care may only cost you between $95 and $115, wherein the emergency room those prices jump anywhere between $525 and $665 respectively.

Regardless of the cost, you should still go to the ER if you are experiencing a life-threatening medical condition. If you’re experiencing more of a minor medical condition that still requires attention, you should head to the nearest urgent care facility to save on medical bills.

When You Should Go To Urgent Care Vs. ER

If you’re still confused about whether or not you should go to the emergency room over urgent care, here’s what you should ask yourself. Is this something that my primary care would normally take care of? If you answer yes, then make your way to the closest urgent care. However, if the answer is no, and you are experiencing a more severe medical condition, then either call an ambulance or go to the ER.

When To Go To Urgent Care

You should visit urgent care if you are seeking out medical attention for any of the following reasons:

  • Minor fractures
  • Back pain
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Earache
  • Sore throat
  • Stitches
  • Allergies or minor allergic reaction
  • Cold or flu-like symptoms

When To Go To The Emergency Room

It can’t be stressed enough, you need to visit the emergency room if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Head trauma
  • Stroke
  • Severe bleeding
  • Loss of vision

What You Should Do If You Don’t Have Insurance

If you don’t have Medicare, or any private health insurance plan for that matter, your hands are tied. Emergency services will require you to go to the ER, and you will likely have to pay the fee unless you qualify for financial help. If you’re dealing with more of a nonlife-threatening medical condition, and are weighing the urgent care vs. emergency room without insurance, the answer is obvious, go to urgent care.

You should never go to the emergency room for non-emergency services, regardless of your coverage. For one, it’s more expensive if you are paying out-of-pocket. Secondly, you are taking up valuable time and resources from emergency room staff who could be focusing their efforts on someone who is worse off than you.