Many people don’t understand the differences between an urgent care center and an emergency room. You might think they are interchangeable and that both equally suit your needs; however, there are a few key differences that make one a better option than the other depending on your health concerns. Which one costs more? Do either accept health insurance? Where can you be seen by a doctor most quickly? Find the answers to these questions and more below.
When should you use an urgent care or an emergency room?
The answer to this question is in the names of these places, so you can remember which one to use at the right time. The emergency room is for emergencies – meaning you have a life-threatening medical emergency. For example, a deep wound on your leg, while serious, is not a life-threatening injury and can be treated at an urgent care center. If your medical emergency may require surgery, your best option is to go to the emergency room.
Urgent care centers are appropriate for medical needs that are not necessarily life-threatening but need attention right away. A bleeding leg wound can’t wait for a doctor’s appointment at your usual doctor’s office but isn’t life-threatening and so doesn’t require the emergency room. The solution for this kind of injury is to go to an urgent care center.
What services does an urgent care center offer?
Urgent care centers provide most of the services a patient would expect to receive from an emergency room. Urgent care centers can actually provide more services and treatments than your usual doctor’s office. Among the services an urgent care center can provide include x-rays, STD testing, stitches for wounds, and more. It may even be more affordable to visit an urgent care center rather than your regular doctor.
Which one is more affordable?
An urgent care center visit is almost always the more affordable option instead of going to the emergency room. Even if you don’t have health insurance and pay out of pocket, urgent care visits typically cost half as much as emergency room visits. Both places accept health insurance or have out of pocket options. If you call 911 for an ambulance, that is an additional expense, and ambulances only go to the emergency room (for now, although this may change in the future).
In summary, unless you are having a life-threatening medical emergency or require emergency surgery, an urgent care center is your best, most affordable option for quick medical attention or when your regular provider is not available. If you are having a medical emergency and can’t transport yourself or wait for medical attention on the way to receive care, call an ambulance to go to the emergency room to get there faster and receive treatment on the way.
When in doubt, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, so if an emergency appears to be life-threatening call 911 right away.