It’s important to understand the differences between EMERGENCY ROOM (ER) and URGENT CARE. First, let me start by saying that, if you feel the medical condition is LIFE THREATENING (like you about to DIE) or perhaps limb-threatening, or it may involve severe wounds and amputation, you SHOULD go to the ER!
That being said, if you are sure your symptoms are not life or limb threatening, such as a broken or sprained leg, cold or flu-like symptoms, minor cuts and burns, urgent care centers can be a better and cost-effective alternative to the emergency room.
Urgent care and emergency care can be confusing to distinguish which is most appropriate because they both can mean the same thing, but in the medical world, they differ.
You’re at home in the middle of the night like, “Dang dude, I got this cough, I can’t take this anymore! I should see a doctor.” Urgent care center would be a more appropriate place to go seek help. Now, you’re home sleeping and all of a sudden a sharp stabbing pain in the middle of your chest wakes you up, and you feel that pain radiating to your arm, neck, and jaw. Now you can’t breathe, and you think, “GUURRLLL, this is some serious stuff, I feel like I might be having a heart attack!” Well, then you better call 911 and take yourself to the ER.
Symptoms that can be treated in urgent care center are nonlife-threatening such as:
• Ear pain
• Painful urination
• Persistent diarrhea
• Sore throat
• Mild asthma
• Minor burns
• Rashes and other skin irritations
• Animal bites
• Simple fractures and sprains
You should go to the Emergency room if you experience symptoms such as:
• New onset confusion
• Head injuries
• Coughing blood
• Severe chest pain
• Shortness of breath
• Severe abdominal pain
• Sudden vision changes
• Spinal injuries
• Uncontrollable bleeding
• Severe vomiting and/or diarrhea
• Drug overdoses
• Severe burns
If you think your symptoms are not severe and you go to an urgent care, then once you’re there the physician and medical staff thinks you would benefit from a higher level of care, they will arrange to have you transferred to the nearest emergency room.
Overuse of emergency medical services with unnecessary trips to the ER has driven up medical costs and has caused delays and overcrowding of emergency rooms. Emergency rooms work by prioritizing care, and those with less severe problems WILL WAIT. Urgent care centers on average serve 88% of their patients within one hour of arrival, as opposed to 12% in the emergency rooms because, in the ER, those with less severe issues are pushed back.
There is also a financial benefit for visiting an urgent care clinic, they usually cost 7 times less than a trip to the ER. If your insurance deems the visit to the ER as a non-medical emergency, you may be left with the entire bill.
Now, also you may want to note that, if you are taken to the ER and, because nowadays we operate heavily based on customer satisfaction, and many patients demand being admitted, they may actually give you a hospital room for a night or two. While you are a patient in the hospital, you might be kept under an observation status. What does this mean? It means you have not entirely met criteria to be fully admitted to the hospital, and you may be charged with the hospitalization.
Another point to watch out for, some hospital owned urgent care clinics may actually charge you ER rates. These clinics are not the basic certified urgent care centers, and their billing procedures may vary. So be mindful which urgent care clinic you will be going to, and you can always call in advance and ask for basic pricing details. Just be aware that some may charge you the charge rates of the emergency rooms.
The Dude Nurse
Klaus Campos, BSN-RN