Urgent Care Vs. Emergency Room Care: What’s the Difference?

Many people confuse urgent care centers with emergency rooms since “urgent” and “emergency” are somewhat similar terms. This is a common mistake; however, it is extremely important to understand the difference between the two. Understanding this difference is key to ensuring the right care for yourself and your family members. Take a moment to learn about urgent care vs. ER.

When To Go To Urgent Care

Urgent care centers exist for “non-emergency” healthcare situations, including those occurring outside of normal doctor’s office hours. Many doctors’ offices close at 5:00 pm, while most urgent care centers shut their doors at 8:00 pm or later. Visit an urgent care center if you are ill from a severe cold or the flu, or cannot seem to get rid of a cough or sore throat. High fevers, minor headaches, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, ear and sinus pain, and back pain are other reasons to visit your local urgent care center. Note that if the fever in question is experienced by your baby or toddler, it is generally best to go to the emergency room.

Other reasons for going to an urgent care center is for minor injuries, including cuts, scrapes, animal bites, sprains and strains, burns, and bone fractures requiring x-rays. If you get a foreign object lodged in your nose or eye, see an urgent care professional. These centers also provide care for allergic reactions, including those resulting in rashes; eye pain, irritation, or swelling; and asthma attacks.

Urgent care centers offer vaccinations and lab services for your convenience. Most patients visiting these healthcare centers wait 30 minutes or less to see a doctor. Walk-ins are always welcome and you usually will not remain in the center for more than an hour. And while walk-ins are accepted at urgent care centers, they still differ from walk-in clinics found in grocery and retail stores, and pharmacies. These clinics provide care for extremely minor issues such as a cold or mild strain. Flu treatment is also available at walk-in clinics.

Urgent care centers do not have complex medical equipment used in life-threatening health situations, unlike emergency rooms.

How Much Does Urgent Care Cost?

If you are wondering about urgent care cost, the majority of centers take insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare. They also usually accept motor vehicle insurance and worker’s compensation insurance.

Urgent care cost without insurance is typically between $71 to $150 per visit depending on the center and the severity of your injury or health issue. If you need x-rays, for example, you will pay more than for treatment of a minor scrape or burn. You will also be charged for any medications, injections, and IVs, most of which is covered by insurance.

When To Go To An Emergency Room

Unlike doctors’ offices and urgent care centers, emergency rooms are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They provide serious trauma care, including treatment for a variety of life-threatening injuries and conditions.

Visit an emergency room if you experience an allergic reaction to an insect bite, animal bite, or food. You also need to visit an emergency room if you have serious shortness of breath, chest pain (a heart attack symptom), continual vomiting, continual bleeding, pain or weakness in your extremities (a sign of stroke), or unconsciousness. Sustaining deep wounds, head injuries, loss of vision, electrical shock, and broken bones calls for emergency room care as well.

The easiest way to determine whether you require the emergency room or an urgent care center is to ask yourself “Is my injury/condition life-threatening?” If the answer is yes, visit the emergency room. If not, go to an urgent care center.

How Much Does An Emergency Room Visit Cost?

Emergency room costs are always greater than urgent care costs because the health issue is generally more severe and may require surgery, extensive testing and treatment, laboratory work, or other specialized care. Emergency room cost without insurance is anywhere between $150 to $3,000. If surgery or another special procedure is necessary, the cost may be upwards of $20,000.

According to the Center For Disease Control, there are 141.1 million emergency room visits in the United States per year. The number of injury-related visits is 40 million and the number of visits per 100 persons is 45.1. Additionally, the number of visits resulting in hospital admission and critical care unit admission is 11.2 million and 1.8 million, respectively.

About 32% of patients wait 15 minutes or less for care in an emergency room according to the CDC.

ERs receive many visits for non-urgent care situations because they are required by federal law to provide treatment for anyone who asks for it. This means they are not legally allowed to turn patients away. Unfortunately, this results in crowded trauma centers and a reduced ability to attend patients with serious injuries, ailments, conditions, and allergic reactions.


Since the 1990s, urgent care centers have served 73% of Americans without primary care doctor access at nighttime or on the weekends. There are currently some 9,300 urgent care centers throughout the United States providing treatment for non-life-threatening health complications.

Use urgent care centers and emergency rooms when it is absolutely necessary to help maintain your health. Do not abstain from the ER if you experience any of the above issues or similar life-threatening health problems. The sooner you visit the emergency room in a serious situation, the better.

Many diseases and health conditions are easily avoidable when you take care of yourself. Get seven to eight hours of sleep a night as much as possible, exercise regularly for at least 30 minutes at a time, and drink plenty of water each day. Consume a diet high in whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and minimize your intake of sugary and processed foods. You should limit your consumption of red meat and other saturated fats, as well as your tobacco use and alcohol intake.

Take care of your health and it will take care of you.

Translate »