The emergency room is mean for true emergencies. These facilities are equipped for nearly any kind of medical emergency. Emergency departments are found at most all hospitals, and they are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Emergency rooms handle trauma and life-threatening situations. Visiting an urgent care clinic is a practical alternative to health care. These centers are equipped to handle non-life threatening conditions and injuries, and they are open after doctor’s office hours and on weekends.
Americans made 136 million visits to emergency rooms in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Around 40% of all hospital admissions originate from emergency department visits. Most visits to the emergency department are for non-urgent care, but the hospital has to see the patients regardless. Because many people do not have insurance, it puts a tremendous strain on the hospital’s budget.
What is an Urgent Care Center?
An urgent care center is a valid bridge between your primary care provider (family doctor) and the emergency department. These facilities evolved in the 1990s, and they serve people who do not have access to primary care at night or of the weekend. Urgent care clinics do not require and appointment, and they are staffed by qualified, licensed healthcare employees. Urgent care centers offer laboratory services, diagnostic testing, and can treat any condition that is not life-threatening.
Conditions Considered to Be Life-Threatening
If you are wondering what conditions should be treated at the emergency room instead of the urgent care center, these include:
- Chest pain
- Broken bones showing through skin
- Serious allergic reactions to food or insect stings
- Deep wounds
- Head injuries with loss of consciousness
- Severe shortness of breath
- Continuous bleeding
- Trauma resulting in limb loss
- Intestinal bleeding
When to Use Urgent Care
Urgent care centers are staffed with physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, medical assistants, radiology technicians, and receptionists. These facilities offer immediate care for conditions that are not life-threatening. Common conditions treated by urgent care clinics include:
- Minor broken bones
- Sprains and strains
- Simple cuts, scrapes, and burns
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Sore throat
- Seasonal allergies
- Urinary tract infection
- Insect bites
Choosing the Emergency Room or Urgent Care Clinic
The decision of whether to go to the emergency room or urgent care clinic for after-hours heath care should be based on severity of the patient’s condition and cost. Many people, however, make this decision based on convenience. According to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, one-third or more of all emergency department visits are for non-urgent care. Additionally, 56% of all emergency room visits are avoidable, according to the New England Health Institute.
The decision to receive treatment at the emergency department is a factor of why 75 million people in the U.S. have problems with medical debt. Based on research, medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy in America. If you do not have a life-threatening situation, injury, or condition, consider the cost-effective option of using an urgent care center.
Time and cost favor urgent care, with the average visit costing $50-150, depending on the level of treatment. Based on research from the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine, 70% of patients who use urgent care clinics have health insurance, and all they pay is a co-payment. On the other hand, the average cost of visiting the emergency room is around $1,500 to $2,00, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH).