Healthcare costs
Innovations in healthcare technology improve patient engagement. Virtual healthcare will increase consumer confidence in the system.

ER vs Urgent Care? Save time, money, and frustration!

Table of Contents

Bennie Gates JD

Bennie Gates JD

Dedicated to fighting against the outrageous cost of healthcare.

Innovations in healthcare technology improve patient engagement. Virtual healthcare will increase consumer confidence in the system.

The following information is for informational purposes only. The discussion is not medical advice. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment. Contact your primary care provider if you have any questions about your healthcare. Dial 911 if you have any questions.

Prologue

ER vs Urgent Care Center debates are important. Consumer decisions impact physical and financial health.

An untreated consumer left the hospital Emergency Department in frustration. The consumer registered and waited four hours without treatment. The consumer received a significant bill weeks later. (Rosato, 2018)

Technology is a considerable influence on the healthcare industry. Electronic health records (EHR) and artificial intelligence (AI) use algorithms to ease the workload within a hospital setting. The concept of interoperability replaces the need for paperwork. (Brooks, 2021)

The debate is over whether the consumer’s trip to the ER was even necessary. (Paavola, 2021) Do consumers have viable options under these circumstances? 

The fact is that consumers do have convenient, dependable, and affordable alternatives for diagnosis and treatment in a reasonable amount of time. The level of care required to treat the consumer’s condition is the only variable.

Why are Urgent Care Centers and Walk-in clinics good alternatives to the ER?

Urgent Care Centers and walk-in clinics are becoming more popular as alternatives to emergency rooms. Making a choice between ER and Urgent Care Centers may not be difficult.

The providers at these clinics can see you faster, and the government is investing in these clinics to make them more accessible. 

However, it is essential to note that these clinics do not replace Emergency Rooms but do serve as a viable alternative for those who do not have a severe medical emergency. (Alexander et al., 2017)

How does a hospital use artificial intelligence (AI) in the ER?

Emergency rooms use artificial intelligence to help diagnose and treat patients. The AI is assisting doctors to make quicker decisions about what treatment to give to patients.

AI reduces the time it takes for patients to get care in the ER, which improves their quality of life. (AI Survey: Health Care Organizations Continue to Adopt Artificial Intelligence to Help Achieve Better, More Equitable and Affordable Patient Outcomes – UnitedHealth Group, 2021)

A substantial number of consumers are taking unnecessary trips to the emergency room.

Many patients who go to emergency rooms do not have true emergencies but visit the ER for non-urgent care. Emergency Rooms are much more expensive than urgent Care or Walk-in Clinics.

Patients have alternatives to the emergency room. A study in Health Services Research found that patients with non-urgent conditions can be treated at urgent care centers or clinics for less and without wait times and crowded emergency rooms. (Allen et al., 2021)

Consider the following options when your primary care physician is unavailable

Walk-in clinics and Urgent Care centers are increasingly popular. But how do they differ from an Emergency Room? The debate over ER vs Urgent Care Centers continues.

The first thing to remember is that you should never go to an Emergency Room for a non-emergency!  The ER is for life-threatening injuries and illnesses, such as heart attacks or breathing problems.

What are Walk-in Clinics?

Walk-in clinics are a great alternative to the ER, especially if you are not experiencing life-threatening symptoms. Consumers experience shorter wait times and receive proper treatment at a reasonable cost.

Walk-in clinics and Urgent Care Centers are convenient, quick, reliable, and affordable alternatives to the ER.

Walk-in cClinics and Urgent Care Centers are two convenient, quick, reliable, and affordable alternatives to the ER. Walk-in clinics are usually open seven days a week. Staff includes certified nurse practitioners and physician assistants. 

It is important to point out other ER vs Urgent Center differences. Urgent care centers are more likely to treat patients quickly; however, they do not have the same level of services as an ER. A consumer needs to assess the need for a trip to the ER.

While the answer is not always straightforward, knowing the difference between Walk-in Clinics, Urgent Care, and emergency care and where to seek treatment could save your life in a medical emergency.

Consumers must fight unreasonable medical debt after making the wrong choice. Scriptsmartllc serves consumers fighting the excessive cost of healthcare.

“Recognizing the differences between “emergency” and “urgent” care can be confusing because both terms imply there is a medical need that needs to be addressed quickly,” says Shawn Evans, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. (Should You Go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care, 2018)

“Many people use the ER as a place to receive after-hours care for minor illnesses or injuries without realizing they have another option,” says Dr. Evans.

Urgent Care Centers are same-day clinics that can handle various medical problems that need prompt treatment but are not true emergencies. 

However, while urgent care clinics are not a substitute for your primary care physician, they are a great resource when you need care but can’t get in with your doctor. 

ER vs Urgent Care
ER vs Urgent Care Infographic

What factors influence the choice between walk-in clinics, Urgent Care Centers, and the Emergency room?

The reasons consumers visit the emergency room (ER), and urgent care (UC) are often different, as are the services provided in each setting. ER vs Urgent Care Centers have distinct features.

Both ERs and UCs provide immediate medical attention for a variety of non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses. Urgent Care Centers do not treat life-threatening conditions.

Urgent Care Centers restrictions include treating serious conditions that require immediate attention but are not life-threatening. ERs provide emergency services 24 hours.

When your Primary Care Provider (PCP) is unavailable, Urgent Care is an excellent option for minor medical issues that don’t require immediate attention. (Dong & Bullard, 2021)

What is the difference between Urgent Care Centers and the emergency room?

ER vs Urgent Care differences are designed to improve patient engagement. Urgent Care treats conditions that require immediate attention but are not life-threatening.

The Emergency Department is the right place to go if you have a severe or potentially life-threatening illness or injury: Chest pain, sudden weakness on one side of your body, a new seizure, severe headache, persistent heavy bleeding, poisoning, or a large broken bone. 

What is Triage?

Triage is a system used to assess and categorize patients to determine the best level of care. Patients are typically evaluated based on their symptoms and the severity of their condition. (Alumran et al., 2020)

How does the Triage system work?

The Triage System is a tool that helps emergency medical services providers, health systems, and hospitals make decisions about how to best treat patients.

The plan was initially developed for emergency treatment on the battlefields but adapted for use in health systems and hospitals.

The Triage system sorts patients into groups based on high, medium, or low priority. Emergency rooms and Urgent Care Centers manage patient flow better and provide the most appropriate level of care.

Why is Triage used in healthcare?

Triage is a process in healthcare that helps to sort the most urgent and vital cases from less urgent or less serious ones. The Triage concept is an important part of comparing ER vs Urgent Care Centers.

Triage begins when medical professionals encounter you. The process can be as simple as asking, “How ill are you?” to more complex questions, like “What are your symptoms? Which hospital do you prefer? What is the name of your doctor?” (Yancey & O’Rourke, 2021)

How is Triage used in the Emergency Rooms?

Emergency rooms and Urgent Care Clinics offer vital health services. Emergency rooms are for people who have a life-threatening illness or injury. It is useful to understand Triage when comparing the ER vs Urgent Care Centers.

Urgent Care Clinics are for people who have a non-life-threatening illness or injury, such as the flu or a sprained ankle. One key difference between the two is that emergency room staff use Triage to determine how severe an illness or injury is. 

Triage is the process of assessing and prioritizing patients based on their need for medical attention. The Triage system sets treatment priorities based on the condition of the patient.

Emergency Room wait times are often a byproduct of the Triage System employed by ER staff.

What are the levels of Triage?

There are three Triage levels in acute medical care: immediate, urgent, and non-urgent. (Lam et al., 2020) Triage level depends upon the severity of the patient’s condition. 

Knowing which level of care to seek can help you get the appropriate help quickly and focus on getting better. The answer to this question depends on your illness or injury severity. 

An Emergency Room is a hospital-based department organized to deal with any medical emergency. An Urgent Care Center is not as well-equipped. Triage levels are different when discussing ER vs Urgent Care Centers.

How are emergency patients Triaged?

Technology plays a vital role in modern Triage policy. Medical staff often use Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms to establish priorities.

Human interaction and AI ensure that the most severe cases are seen first and receive the necessary treatment. Emergency Rooms provide trauma care for people with severe injuries in some hospitals. 

These hospitals have specially trained staff to deal with these types of injuries. The study found that emergency room visits were eight times more expensive than a Primary Care office, 3.5 times higher than an Urgent Care center, and 15 times costlier than telemedicine. (Harms, 2020)

What is the START system of triage in America?

The START system is a triage system in America to help hospitals and Emergency Rooms determine patient priority. The system assigns patients to one of five levels of urgency based on the severity of their condition. (Koenig & Schultz, 2021)

While the START system can be chaotic, it has helped improve patient care by reducing wait times and improving the flow of patients through the hospital emergency room. ER vs Urgent Care Centers have different adaptations of START.

There are alternatives to the START system, such as assigning priority to specific diseases or types of injuries, but it remains popular because it is simple and effective.

Will a doctor see me at Urgent Care or a Walk-in clinic?

The staff at Urgent Care Centers include doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who have experience in urgent medical care. They can treat patients with non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses that need immediate attention. Think patient engagement when you consider ER vs Urgent Care Centers.

Walk-in clinics manage various medical conditions such as colds, flu cases, minor burns, cuts, and scrapes. Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants examine patients.

Compare how Urgent Care may deliver treatment for less money.

Compared to emergency room care, Urgent Care centers are viable for people who need immediate medical attention. Urgent Care Centers treat non-life-threatening conditions. 

These clinics offer lower costs and may be able to see you sooner than an Emergency Room would. Urgent Care Clinics are an excellent option for people who may need immediate attention to a condition not life-threatening. 

These centers are typically less expensive than going to the ER, and most insurance plans will cover at least some of the cost. However, they do not have the sophisticated medical equipment and staff expertise to handle life-threatening conditions in hospital emergency rooms. 

Consider the cost of service when making ER vs Urgent Care Center decisions.

What are Retail Walk-in Clinics?

Walk-in Clinics treat minor illnesses. (STAFF, 2019) Walk-in or Retail clinics staff include nurse practitioners and physician assistants. 

They are open evenings and weekends and during the day on weekdays. These clinics accept walk-in patients with non-life-threatening conditions such as:

• Common colds

• Minor cuts, scrapes, and burns

• Sprains and strains that are not severe enough to require x-rays or other diagnostic tests.

Many walk-in clinics are in pharmacies like Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, grocery stores, and retail outlets. If you need a quick treatment for a cold, flu, or slight sprain, you could get it at one of these clinics.

ER vs Urgent Care vs Walk in clinics
ER vs Urgent Care? Save time, money, and frustration! 1

Go to the ER if your situation is a true emergency.

Reputable healthcare providers have summarized good criteria for emergency care. The Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) has a consensus statement on the topic. 

The Association defines an emergency as “a situation that poses an immediate threat to life, limb or major bodily function.”

Their definition of an emergency department is “a facility that provides 24-hour, seven days a week access to care for emergent conditions and stabilization.”

Emergency Room wait times

Emergency Room wait times vary across the country. In some areas, waits can be as short as 15 minutes. But in other states, waits can be up to four hours. Some patients have been sent home without being seen.

On the other hand, Urgent Care Centers are always available and have shorter wait times than Emergency Rooms. They usually take patients with non-life-threatening injuries within a few minutes, such as broken bones and cuts.

ER vs Urgent Care Centers depend upon the required level of care. Emergency Rooms are only for life-threatening situations, which can confuse patients who don’t know the difference between Urgent Care Centers and Emergency Rooms.

Consider an Urgent Care Center for serious situations that are not life-threatening.

Remember that the more severe the condition, the sooner you see a doctor. Urgent Care typically works on a first-come, first-served basis. If your symptoms are not life-threatening, it is best to try an Urgent Care Center. ER vs Urgent Care Centers adapt to the level of care necessary to relieve the patient from misery.

When should I seek treatment in a Walk-in Clinic?

Walk-in Clinics are a valuable resource for treating minor illnesses and injuries. If you or a loved one cannot get into seeing your primary care provider because the office is closed, or if you are not feeling well but it is not an emergency, Walk-in Clinics may provide the necessary care.

Urgent Care Center wait time is less than the ER

When deciding whether to go to the ER or Urgent Care, it is essential to know that you will spend less time in an Urgent Care Center. The median wait time in an Urgent Care Center is about 60 minutes, and the median treatment time is 90 minutes.

On average, you will spend less than two hours at an Urgent Care Clinic. In addition, people spend time and money on unnecessary ER visits when at an Urgent Care Clinic. Wait time is a factor when considering ER vs Urgent Care Centers.

When should I be treated at Urgent Care or a Walk-in Clinic?

Urgent Care Centers are clinics that offer immediate medical care for various conditions. These clinics can handle the most pressing problems, but they are not a replacement for the Emergency Room.

If you are unsure whether you need to go to the ER, it is always best to call 911. Life-threatening conditions impact ER vs Urgent Care Center decisions.

Suppose your symptoms come on gradually or you already know the diagnosis, for example.  When you feel ill, but it is not severe enough for the Emergency Room or Urgent Care Center, visit a Walk-in Clinic instead.

Will insurance cover the cost of Urgent Care Center visits?

Urgent Care Centers are an excellent option for people who don’t have a life-threatening emergency. They are not as expensive as going to the ER. Insurance coverage is another factor to consider as you make the ER vs Urgent Care Center determination.

Insurance covers most of the treatment received. Review your Evidence of Coverage (EOC) Manual or call your insurance provider Customer Service to get information.

Conclusion

We have all experienced a health challenge at various times in our lives. Conditions including broken bones, lacerations, a birth with complications, or some suffering a heart attack are common.

Innovations in technology improve the healthcare patient engagement process. Virtual healthcare is an extra tool available to consumers making healthcare decisions.

Emergency Room visits have decreased while Urgent Care visits have increased. This is because patients now have more options for where to seek medical attention. Cost and wait time influence the ER vs Urgent Care Center discussion.

We have every right to believe we and our ailment elevates us to first in line upon arrival at a given health provider. However, perception and reality are distinctly different.

The name of the game is to think clearly about our condition and determine the best option for a solution. History confirms consumers should revise their thinking about the healthcare system and how to get the best results for our time and money.

The fact is many of us have chosen the Emergency Room as the best option without consideration of any alternatives. Distinct levels of healthcare delivery are available to us for good reasons.

21st Century healthcare delivery needs help from 21st Century consumers. None of us enjoy rushing to the ER with a perceived “emergency” only to sit for four hours without a conversation with a treating physician.

er vs urgent care 21st century
ER vs Urgent Care? Save time, money, and frustration! 2

Consumers must use mobile strategies to address healthcare challenges in the 21st century. Smartphones may be a lifeline and a time saver at any given time. Do not overlook the power of this device.

Covid 19 forced medical providers and patients alike to adapt to change. Virtual healthcare is no longer a futuristic concept. Virtual practice is part of the ER vs Urgent Care debate.

The future has arrived! We can save time, frustration, and money if we choose to use technology at our fingertips. Make good decisions and avoid negotiating excessive medical bills.

If your goal is to relieve misery as soon as possible at a reasonable cost, then make better choices. You can expect diverse competition for treatment no matter where you go.

Remember, the ER is at the top of the pyramid of healthcare. ER vs Urgent Care involves several considerations. Your waiting time and related cost depend upon your decision-making.

The stories about untreated disappointed patients are too numerous to count. The next time you experience a health challenge, ask “where can I be treated, in the shortest possible time at a reasonable cost?”

Always think about the ER vs Urgent Care Center alternatives. If your conclusion is the Emergency Room at the nearest hospital, then dial 911 and be prepared to wait. If your condition is not life-threatening, consider an Urgent Care Center or Retail Walk-in clinic.

Remember, you are in the best position to determine the suitable place for a solution to your problem. Urgent Care Centers and Retail Walk-in clinics are viable alternatives to the ER under the right circumstances.

Many options are accessible on your way to the four hours sitting in the ER waiting room. Good luck and good health!

Sources:

AI Survey: Health Care Organizations Continue to Adopt Artificial Intelligence to Help Achieve Better, More Equitable and Affordable Patient Outcomes – UnitedHealth Group. (2021, December 21). United Health Group. https://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/newsroom/2021/2021-12-15-optum-ai-survey-for-better-equitable-affordable-outcomes.html

Alexander, D., Currie, J., & Schnell, M. (2017). Check-Up Before You Check Out: Retail Clinics and Emergency Room Use. SSRN. https://doi.org/10.3386/W23585

Allen, L., Cummings, J. R., & Hockenberry, J. M. (2021). The impact of urgent care centers on nonemergent emergency department visits. Health Services Research, 56(4), 721–730. https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6773.13631

Alumran, A., Alkhaldi, O., Aldroorah, Z., Alsayegh, Z., Alsafwani, F., & Almaghraby, N. (2020). Utilization of an Electronic Triage System by Emergency Department Nurses. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, 13, 339. https://doi.org/10.2147/JMDH.S250962

Brooks, C. (2021, December 8). Interoperability and the Connected Health Care System | CMS. CMS.Gov Blog. https://www.cms.gov/blog/interoperability-and-connected-health-care-system

Harms, J. M. (2020). What To Do? Emergency Department vs. Urgent Care vs. Your Doctor’s Office – MPCP. Maryland Primary Care Physicians. https://www.mpcp.com/articles/preventative-care/what-to-do-emergency-department-vs-urgent-care-vs-your-doctors-office/

Koenig, B. N., & Schultz, C. (2021, December 30). Example of START adult triage system – UpToDate. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/image?imageKey=OBGYN%2F129155&topicKey=SURG%2F17032&source=see_link

Lam, R. P. K., Kwok, S. L., Chaang, V. K., Chen, L., Lau, E. H. Y., & Chan, K. L. (2020). Performance of a three-level triage scale in live triage encounters in an emergency department in Hong Kong. International Journal of Emergency Medicine, 13(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1186/S12245-020-00288-8/TABLES/4

Paavola, A. (2021). Unnecessary ER visits cost $47B a year, report finds. Becker’s Hospital Review. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/finance/unnecessary-er-visits-cost-47b-a-year-report-finds.html

Rosato, D. (2018, February 9). Patients Stuck with Big Bills After ER Visits – Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/healthcare-costs/patients-getting-stuck-with-big-bills-after-er-visits/

Should You Go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care? (2018). Scripps. https://www.scripps.org/news_items/4231-should-you-go-to-the-emergency-room-or-urgent-care

STAFF. (2019, December 26). Retail Clinics Make Important Contribution to Healthcare. Managed Healthcare Executive. https://www.managedhealthcareexecutive.com/view/retail-clinics-make-important-contribution-healthcare

Yancey, C. C., & O’Rourke, M. C. (2021, July 30). Emergency Department Triage – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. U.S. National Library of Medicine; NCBI (National Center for Biology Information). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557583/

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