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How to Choose Between the ER and Urgent Care

December 09, 2016

When you need care fast and your primary care doctor is unavailable, an urgent care center can provide assistance for minor illnesses and treatments – but how do you know when to choose between urgent care and the ER?

Knowing which conditions are fitting for each visit can save you both time and money. Certain symptoms and injuries can quickly be identified as emergency room emergencies such as:

  • Heavy bleeding
  • Large wounds
  • Chest pains
  • Burns
  • Head injuries
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Broken bones
When to choose urgent care

Illnesses and injuries treated at urgent care centers are not life-threatening. Specific symptoms and conditions where you may consider going to an urgent care center include:

  • Minor injuries that don’t require emergency treatment
  • Physical exams
  • Colds
  • Follow-up treatments
  • Treatment for chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension
Know before you go

Before you walk out the door, if possible, make sure you’re ready for your visit. To make your visit to an urgent care center run smoothly, remember:

  • Call ahead to be sure the urgent care center will accept your insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. If you’re uninsured, ask about cash-pay discounts and get a cost estimate. Most centers will expect payment from uninsured patients before they leave the facility.
  • See if you can make an appointment. Some urgent care centers now schedule online appointments and will notify you several minutes in advance when your doctor is ready to see you. This means you don’t have to sit in a waiting room while feeling miserable.
  • Make sure you take your insurance card, photo ID and list of current medications.
  • Keep in mind that where you choose to get treatment will affect how much you pay–always check if the urgent care is in your network.

Bottom line, remember that emergency rooms must treat the most urgent needs first, so visiting the ER with a condition like a sprain, minor cut or cold could result in a wait of several hours and higher bills. So, assess your condition to make the best choice for your health, schedule and wallet.