When you have a health emergency, you might be able to choose between urgent care or ER (the emergency room). An urgent care facility may be closest, so maybe you go there. The same might be the case for a hospital emergency room.
Many times, people don’t think about the options during a medical emergency. Instead, they find the closest facility and go, which is understandable. However, if you’re a planner, you might want to know the difference between urgent care and ER cost.
Maybe you already know where the closest urgent care or emergency room is to you. This is important information, but you should also know the cost. Let’s look at how they stack up against each other.
What is an Urgent Care Center?
The definition of an urgent care center, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians is, “a walk-in clinic focused on the delivery of medical care for minor illnesses and injuries in an ambulatory medical facility outside of a traditional hospital-based or freestanding emergency department.”
It’s common to find these facilities with different names, such as:
- Minute Clinics
- Minor Emergency Centers
- Minor Care Centers
- After Hours Walk-in Clinics
- Quick Care Clinics
They may use the word emergency in the name or even in the advertisement. However, an urgent care center will likely only treat minor injuries or illnesses.
A facility cannot be called an Urgent Care Center if it hasn’t met the right requirements, however. In most states, they have to be open seven days a week, have a licensed physician as the medical director, take walk-in patients, perform minor medical procedures, have multiple exam rooms, and have on-site diagnostic equipment.
What is an Emergency Room?
An Emergency Room or ER is defined by Merriam-Webster.com as “a hospital room or area staffed and equipped for the reception and treatment of persons requiring immediate medical care.”
This type of facility is most commonly attached to a hospital and will treat patients as quickly as possible. A large percentage of patients will enter into the healthcare system through the emergency room. If someone is suffering from a life-threatening condition, they will most likely go to the emergency room of a hospital first.
Urgent Care vs ER: Cost Differences
The cost of going to an urgent care vs ER is quite different. However, there are some things you cannot get from an urgent care center, which we will cover in the next section.
If you go into an urgent care facility, the average cost you can expect to pay is about $180 per visit. An ER, on the other hand, has an average cost of $2,200 per visit. Both of these figures are taken from an article on the United Healthcare website.
The cost will vary, depending on the type of services you need. Below is a comparison of the costs of specific services at both an Urgent Care and an ER
- Allergies – $345 at the ER or $97 at an Urgent Care
- Earache – $400 at the ER or $110 at an Urgent Care
- Strep Throat – $531 at the ER or $111 at an Urgent Care
- Pink Eye – $370 at the ER or $102 at an Urgent Care
- Urinary Tract Infection – $665 at the ER or $112 at an Urgent Care
In almost all cases, an Urgent Care will be cheaper than going to the ER. However, there are some things you simply don’t want to go to an Urgent Care for.
Urgent Care vs ER: Service Differences
While the old saying, “you get what you pay for” might apply to urgent care vs ER costs, it’s not a blanket statement that fits. Yes, you pay more at an ER, but you may not get the same service compared to an urgent care facility.
An urgent care center will have an average wait time of 30 minutes or less. They have physicians on staff and often provide excellent services for non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses.
If you go to an ER, you can expect a wait time closer to two hours. They also have physicians on staff and are likely to treat you much faster if you’re dealing with a life-threatening issue.
When to go to an Urgent Care
There are times when it makes more sense to go to an Urgent Care Center than an ER. If you’re suffering from a minor injury or illness, you don’t need to wait or pay the higher cost of an ER. Some of the most common things to go to an Urgent Care Center for include:
- Nose Bleeds
- Stomach Pain
- Vomiting or Diarrhea
- Headaches and Migraines
- Skin Rash
- Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding
- Painful Urination
- Minor Cuts
- Minor Puncture Wounds
- Ear Infections
- Seasonal Allergies
- Insect Bites
When the injury or illness is minor, an Urgent Care Center offers a cheaper alternative to the ER.
When to go to an ER
While you can go to an ER for any minor injury or illness, it’s often better to go to an Urgent Care Center. However, when an injury or illness becomes life-threatening or serious, you want to go directly to the ER.
The hardest part can be when an injury or illness doesn’t seem so serious, but it is. If it’s hard to figure out how serious it is, you might want to just go to an ER, just in case.
Some of the most common reasons to head to the ER include:
- Allergic Reactions
- Severe Chest Pain
- Intestinal Bleeding
- Vaginal Bleeding with Pregnancy
- Severe Head Injuries
- Wheezing or Shortness of Breath
- Severe Abdominal Pain
- Severe Eye Injuries
- High Fevers, especially with children
If you’re suffering from any of these, it’s time to go directly to the ER, not an Urgent Care Center. Often, if it’s a serious illness or injury, an Urgent Care Center will send you to the ER.
While the cost of an Urgent Care and ER should factor into your decision, make sure you choose wisely. If it’s life-threatening or serious, go to the ER. If not, consider going to an Urgent Care instead.