urgent care

Urgent Care vs Emergency Room: What’s the Difference?

Did you know that 1 in 5 adults visits the emergency room at least once per year? That’s a lot of emergency room visits!

For someone who’s never been to the ER, or even an urgent care facility for that matter, this might be confusing. Why would someone go to the ER anyway? What’s the difference between an ER and an urgent care center?

We’re here to talk about the differences between these two medical facilities so you can make the right call if you have a medical concern. Read on to learn more.

What Is Urgent Care?

So what is an urgent care facility anyway?

An urgent care center is a helpful medical facility that can take the place of your normal primary care provider during times when they’re not available. As the name suggests, it’s for situations that are urgent (but not life-threatening).

Most of the time, seeing a primary care provider requires an appointment or for you to be available during specific walk-in hours. Urgent care centers always have walk-in availability (though you may have to wait depending on how busy the urgent care center is).

Urgent care centers have far more availability than the average doctor’s office, so you shouldn’t have a problem getting the care you need even if traditional “office hours” are over.

What Is an Emergency Room?

An emergency room is part of a hospital. It’s where people can go when they’re in immediate need of emergency care. This is often where people go after accidents, serious injuries, or when they realize that they have severe illnesses.

Emergency rooms are there for people to get the care that absolutely can not wait. They’re fully staffed with doctors, nurses, and assistants, and they have immediate access to the rest of the hospital.

Urgent Care vs Emergency Room

So we’ve established that an urgent care center and an emergency room are different things, but what exactly sets them apart? Does it really matter if you choose one over the other?

Here are a few key differences between urgent care centers and emergency rooms.

Available Hours

This is going to vary, but overall, you can expect urgent care facilities to have set hours. These hours are likely to go beyond traditional office hours in standard medical facilities. They will likely be open during the weekend and they may be open during major holidays (but you should always call ahead and ask).

Urgent care centers usually are not open 24 hours per day. If you have a late-night problem, you either have to wait until morning (if possible) or visit an emergency room.

Emergency rooms, on the other hand, are open 24/7. They’re open on holidays and weekends and all through the night. They may not be as well-staffed during some periods, but there should always be someone available to take care of patients with emergencies.

With this in mind, it’s common for there to be long waits at emergency rooms, especially during peak hours. Just because the emergency room is open doesn’t mean you’ll receive care right away (especially if your problem isn’t a true emergency).

In short, both facilities offer after-hours medical care, but the ER should always be open.

Cost of Medical Care

It’s no secret that medical care in the United States can be expensive. If you’re having a serious medical event (be it an actual emergency or a matter of urgent care), it will cost money unless your insurance covers it.

Both urgent care centers and emergency rooms take health insurance. Make sure that the urgent care center or emergency room is in your network if you have time to do so.

For people who are uninsured or under-insured, you can expect urgent care facilities to be less expensive than emergency rooms in most situations. It is not uncommon for people to be charged for emergency room visits without receiving any actual care (or after receiving care that the patient could have managed at home).

Care Options

Both urgent care facilities and emergency rooms offer legitimate healthcare resources, but they aren’t equal. Again, this is because urgent care centers aren’t for emergencies, so they don’t have all of the same tools and testing facilities that ERs have.

Urgent care facilities have highly-trained medical staff, but if you need surgery, you’ll need to go to an ER. Urgent care centers have a wide variety of testing equipment options, but unique tests will require hospital visits.

For example, x-rays and blood tests are easy at urgent care facilities, but MRIs require a visit to the hospital.

When to Go to Urgent Care

So when should you go to urgent care?

Think of urgent care visits as standard doctor visits when you don’t have access to your standard doctor. You’ll visit them when you know something is wrong, but there’s no time to make an appointment with the doctor. The issue isn’t life-threatening, but it’s uncomfortable and you’d like it taken care of as soon as possible.

Common reasons for visiting an urgent care center include:

  • Minor allergic reactions
  • Joint pain
  • Rashes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • STD testing or treatment
  • Stitches
  • Fluid therapy
  • Wound care
  • Dizziness

If someone is able to get up and take themself to a medical facility, urgent care is likely the right option (though there are, of course, exceptions). If the facility is unable to handle the patient’s needs, they will send them to the ER.

When to Go to the Emergency Room

Emergency room visits are for emergencies. While it’s not uncommon for people to make late-night visits to the ER for urgent (but not emergency) problems, it’s best to wait for an urgent care facility to open up unless the problem can not wait.

Potential reasons that someone would go to an emergency room include:

  • Chest pain
  • Major allergic reactions
  • Body numbness
  • Unusual fainting
  • Broken limbs
  • Seizures
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Slurred speech
  • Head injuries

This is an incomplete list. Most of the time, if someone is unable to get themself to medical care (meaning they must use an ambulance), it means that the ER is the right option.

Urgent Care Centers and Emergency Rooms Are Different

While they’re both after-hours medical facilities, urgent care centers and emergency rooms serve different purposes. Make sure you know which one is right for you so you can receive the best care for your situation.

Are you looking for a high-quality urgent care center in Augusta, GA? Find us at one of our MedNow locations. You can walk in and receive care whenever you need it.

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