ER Waiting Room

Know Which to Use: Urgent Care vs the ER

August 1, 2011

in Employee Benefits

Sometimes it’s easy to know when you need to go to an Emergency Room – for example, if you are having a heart attack. But most of the time, knowing when to use the ER isn’t always clear. In fact, 1 in every 5 trips to the ER are unnecessary and should have resulted in a trip to an Urgent Care clinic instead.

When the situation isn’t necessarily an emergency, Urgent Care clinics are a great alternative for saving you time and money. Urgent Care clinics can provide care with no appointments when your doctor isn’t available such as nights or weekends.

How to Know Which One to Use

So how do you know when a particular situation isn’t necessarily an emergency? Urgent Care clinics can treat minor ailments such as:

  • sprains and strains
  • minor broken bones
  • minor infections
  • minor burns
  • small cuts
  • sore throats
  • rashes
  • nausea
  • migraines
  • conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • bladder/urinary symptoms

On the contrary, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians, you should visit the ER if you have any of the following warning signs:

  • chest pain or pressure
  • uncontrolled bleeding
  • sudden or severe pain
  • coughing or vomiting blood
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • sudden dizziness, weakness, or changes in vision
  • severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • changes in mental status, such as confusion

When determining whether to visit the Emergency Room or an Urgent Care clinic, you should also ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Is the injury or illness life or limb-threatening?
    • If yes, don’t hesitate. Call 911 or make a trip to the Emergency Room right away.
  2. If the treatment is delayed more than 24 hours, could the condition become life threatening?
    • If yes, then an Urgent Care clinic might be your best choice. Often, the doctors at an Urgent Care clinic can stabilize the non-emergency situation and keep it from turning into an emergency.

Save Yourself Some Time and Money

Unlike patients in an emergency room, who are subject to triage and have to wait while those with more critical conditions are treated, you will be seen on a first-come-first-served basis when you use an Urgent Care clinic. According to a recent Denver Post article, studies show ER visits average more than six hours in Colorado. Six hours is a long time to wait regardless if the situation is an emergency or not, but if you waited six hours at the ER to find out you had pink eye, chances are you could have saved yourself a significant amount of time by visiting an Urgent Care clinic instead.

You can click here to see a real-life example of costs associated with visiting an Urgent Care clinic versus the ER with the same symptoms.

And most often, depending on your insurance policy, your cost to visit an Urgent Care clinic is significantly lower than your cost for a trip to the ER. If you have an insurance policy where you must pay a co-pay to see your primary doctor, chances are that same co-pay applies to an Urgent Care clinic. Even if you have a High Deductible Health Plan, a visit to an Urgent Care clinic instead of the ER could save you thousands of dollars out of your own pocket.

Know Before You Go

It’s a good idea to locate the Urgent Care clinics in your area (you can do that by visiting the website of the Urgent Care Association of America) and determine if they are in your insurance providers network before you need to visit one. This will save you time in the future should you ever need to visit one in a hurry. You can look up provider networks through your insurance carriers website, by calling the customer service number on the back of your insurance ID card or by contacting our office.

If you need help in determining what costs are associated with visiting an Urgent Care clinic versus the ER as it pertains to your particular health plan, please give us a call. Knowing your costs before you go is just as important and knowing where to go.

We want to empower you to make the best decisions when it comes to your health care, whether that is saving you time, money, or both. In no way do we wish to discourage you from visiting the ER if the situation ever arises.

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