How to Decide If You Should Go
to the ER vs. Urgent Care
It is estimated that between 13.7 and 27.1% of ER visits could have been treated at an urgent care facility.
It is often cheaper to go to an urgent care facility rather than an emergency department, and about $4.4 billion annually is unnecessarily spent on ER care.
How can you know when to go to urgent care vs ER?
Let's take a look at what the difference is between the two and how to determine where you should get your medical condition treated.
The Difference Between Urgent Care Vs ER
Basically, the difference between an urgent care Vs ER visit is whether or not your reason for going is a medical emergency.
Urgent Care Is For Minor Rather Than Major Medical Issues
The medical care received at urgent care is focused on conditions that are not threatening to your life or a part of your body. That being said, the conditions for which people go to urgent care are those that require prompt care within the day.
Urgent care centers will be staffed with both doctors and physicians assistants. They are equipped with basic lab testing, X-ray machines, and equipment for minor procedures.
Emergency departments, on the other hand, have access to more medications, specialists, diagnostic testing, and equipment. Therefore, if your condition requires care of a more intense level, you should probably got to the ER rather than urgent care.
You'll Be Seen More Quickly at Urgent Care Vs Freestanding ER
If you only have a minor medical concern, you'll be in and out more quickly if you go to an urgent care clinic. This is because ERs will prioritize patients based on how life-threatening their condition is. That being said, if you're experiencing a life-threatening condition, you should definitely go to the ER right away.
Urgent Care Vs ER Cost
Urgent care is generally cheaper than going to the ER. Of course, this will depend on your insurance.
Typically, though, many insurance companies will ask for a smaller copay for an urgent care clinic than an ER. This is because it doesn't cost nearly as much to maintain an urgent care clinic than a full emergency department.
Signs That Urgent Care Would Suffice
This is simply a guideline and not definitive. If you are experiencing a medical emergency and you feel like it could be life-threatening, go to the ER instead of urgent care.
That being said, if your condition isn't life-threatening or threatening to a body part, urgent care is probably the better option. Things like hives, rashes, ear pain, pink eye, a twisted ankle, urinary tract infections, and musculoskeletal pains can typically be treated by urgent care.
Another sign that urgent care is a better option than the ER is if you have cold- or flu-like symptoms that haven't responded to your home treatment. If you're wondering if you have an infection or pneumonia, urgent care can help you out.
If you have a minor bone fracture, you might also consider going to urgent care rather than the ER. Fractures in the wrist, finger, hand, elbow, toe, foot, ankle, and ribs are all commonly treated at urgent care. Anything more complicated or serious than that should be treated in an ER.
Another reason to go to urgent care is if you're going for something you'd normally see a primary care doctor for. Sometimes it can be hard to get an appointment as quickly as you'd like with your regular doctor. You can head to urgent care to get checked out if you don't want to wait.
Signs That You Should Go to the ER
If you feel that you need to go to the ER, don't hesitate. However, here are some general guidelines to help determine if going to the ER is a better choice than urgent care.
If you're having a hard time breathing, you should go to the ER. This could either be from an allergic reaction or due to something like a heart attack.
Another reason to head to the ER is if you are experiencing chest pain. This is particularly true if the pain is on the left side of your chest and you're at high risk for heart disease.
If you're having trouble speaking, feeling confused, or are suddenly paralyzed, you should go to the ER right away. These along with other strange symptoms are signs of a stroke. Emergency care is necessary and 911 should be called right away.
Another reason to head to the ER is if you're experiencing severe abdominal pain and a fever, along with stomach swelling, fatigue, nausea, and lethargy. These are all symptoms of various gastrointestinal issues that require emergency attention. Things like pancreatitis, appendicitis, and a serious gallbladder attack can have additional complications if not treated right away.
If you have any other condition that is limb or life-threatening, go to the ER rather than urgent care.
When to Go to Urgent Care Vs ER: It's Your Call
At the end of the day, if you have a gut feeling that you need to go to the emergency room, then that's where you should go. If you have an injury or illness that isn't life-threatening or could lead to the loss of a body part, then urgent care is probably your better bet.
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