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Urgent Care versus Emergency Rooms

Urgent Care versus Emergency Rooms


mother and child with doctor When faced with illness or injury, the first question most of us ask is “Where do we go for care?” When the condition needs immediate attention, we often head to the emergency room; however, there is a faster and less expensive option for non-life-threatening conditions: Urgent Care Centers.

What are the differences between Urgent Care centers and the Emergency Room, and when should you use one over the other? Never forget: If you have a life-threatening illness or injury, call 911or go to the Emergency Room immediately.

Urgent Care

Urgent Care centers are clinics with longer hours and more extensive treatment options than most doctors’ offices. They treat conditions that are not life-threatening but do need immediate attention. Urgent Care is a good option for minor injuries, infections and illnesses. Many of these clinics have basic x-rays, the ability to administer sutures, treat minor traumas like sprains, burns, and bites, and treat infection. They usually have the ability to do basic diagnosing as well, such as flu, strep, and mono tests.

Urgent care clinics often provide general care as well, such as travel immunizations, physicals for school or sports, and treatment of chronic conditions such as asthma. They generally do not provide long term care, just episodic. Locate the Urgent Care clinic close to you here. Call the clinic before you need care to see what services they offer (not all have x-rays, for example), what their hours are and check your insurance information.

Urgent Care centers are typically quicker and cheaper than Emergency Rooms. Most insurance plans cover Urgent Care, often at a much lower cost that the Emergency Room.


A soccer player recently was playing outside on a Saturday when it started to hail and the field became extremely slick. As a result, he was kicked by a player wearing metal cleats, opening four deep gashes in his knee. Instead of going to the ER, he went to an Urgent Care clinic two blocks from his house, had his knee numbed, thoroughly cleaned and sutured, and received a tetanus booster. He was home resting within two hours of his injury. Conclusion: This was a serious injury which occurred when doctors’ offices are closed, needed immediate attention and was not life-threatening.

Emergency Room

Emergency Rooms are almost always attached to hospitals, offering acute care to a broad spectrum of serious illness and injury. Anyone may show up, with any complaint, and be seen for care. The waits can be long depending on the number of patients seeking care and the severity of their medical conditions. You should always go to the Emergency Room if you believe your life or limb is in danger. You should go straight to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms: 

  • Chest Pain
  • Chest Pressure
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Coughing/Vomiting Blood
  • Uncontrollable bleeding or severe trauma (badly broken bones, serious cuts)
  • Severe head trauma
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sudden and/or severe pain
  • Sudden dizziness, changes in vision, or weakness
  • Sudden changes in mental abilities, especially marked confusion
Check with your insurance carrier to find the in-network ER closest to you, and what the different in-network versus out-of-network costs are. If the condition is life-threatening all plans must provide in-network benefits, regardless of where the care is delivered. While emergency room treatment is the most expensive option for care, they have all the equipment, expertise and training to handle life and limb threatening emergencies. For any severe trauma and illness, the Emergency Room needs to be your destination.


A girl goes sledding with her brother in the Spring, when it is icy. She falls off her sled and hits her head on the ice. While there was no blood or bruising, she was falling over and confused after the fall. She could not remember her name or where she was. She was immediately taken to the Emergency Room for extensive testing, including an x-ray, MRI and Cat Scans. Being surrounded by sophisticated technology and expert medical personnel enabled her to get the evaluations and care she needed. Conclusion: This was a complicated and potentially threatening condition including sudden dizziness and changes in mental ability