I Know I Can't Wait for a Dr.'s Appointment. Emergency Room or Urgent Care?

Everyone's been in that situation where you've burned your arm, you've sliced open your foot or the little one can barely breathe. It's important for your health and your pocket book to know where you should go.

Life-threatening situations versus severe pain

Life-threatening situations mean you need to go the emergency room. If you're having the following problems, you need to go to the ER:

  • chest pain
  • breathing trouble
  • severe bleeding
  • head trauma
  • loss of consciousness
  • blurred vision
  • electrical shock
  • bone fractures that are open
  • If you showed up with any of these conditions at the Urgent care facility, they will just send you to the ER.

    BryanLGH Medical Center East

    If your condition isn't life-threatening, but you know you shouldn't wait for a doctor's appointment, head for the Urgent Care facility. For example, you don't want to wait for hours and hours in the emergency room with an earache or sprained ankle. If you the following problems, you can do fine heading to Urgent Care:

  • minor burns
  • a sprain
  • cold
  • ear infection
  • fever
  • rash
  • asthma
  • animal bite
  • flu symptoms
  • Insurance Coverage

    Once you have determined whether or not this is a life or death situation, you can move on to considering other factors. Insurance coverage will be an important factor. Usually insurance companies cover urgent care clinic visits better than ER visits. For example, standard Urgent care co-pay is around $10, while an ER visit co-pay is $100. Not only will the ER cost more, but sometimes the ER will not be covered by your insurance if they determine that your visit was for an ailment they consider "non-emergency."

    Insurance companies are required to abide by PPACA, however, and they will usually cover most emergency situations. You'll want to contact your insurance company if you have time to make decisions. They will be able to tell you whether they will cover and ER visit and what the cost difference would be between that and the Urgent Care Center.

    If you don't have any insurance, you'll be best off financially if you go to an Urgent Care Center. It could cost five times more to go to the Emergency Room than to Urgent Care. Often, if you show up with cash when you don't have insurance, Urgent Care Centers will give you a better deal.


    Emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day, while Urgent Care Centers are usually open for extended hours, but they aren't usually open 24-7. So if you get hurt in the middle of the night, you'll want to head to the ER. If you get hurt after doctor's office hours in evening, you could make it to Urgent Care.

    Your action plan for deciding between an Urgent Care Center and the Emergency Room should be to first determine whether or not you're in a life-or-death situation. If your life is severely threatened, you need to head to the ER. Next, determine the way your insurance works and what your costs will be. If you don't have insurance, you should go to Urgent Care as long as it's not a life-threatening situation. Finally, depending on the time of day, you'll need to choose your place accordingly.

    Sheri Clark writes articles for several health care sites where you can determine which doc in the box, urgent care or emergency room services are right for you.