Posted by Michael Barber, July 10, 2018 (last updated on September 22, 2021)
Urgent care centers are different from emergency rooms in many ways. While they provide many of the same services, they do not have the same pricing schedules or wait times. Here is information you need to know about the similarities and differences.
Emergency Rooms and Urgent Care Differences
Here are the types of services urgent care center cover:
- Flu or common cold
- Immunizations (such as flu shots)
- Fever, headaches, cough, sneezing and chills
- After-hours care
Here are some of the services that require an emergency room:
- Major Trauma or Accident
- Loss of Consciousness
- Heart Attack or Chest Pain
- Uncontrollable Bleeding
While an ER could treat any of the urgent care issues, it is not recommended because emergency rooms are busier and more expensive. Also, it is important to note that urgent care centers may not be able to treat the illnesses listed for emergency rooms. That said, of the top diagnosis at both urgent care centers and emergency rooms, nearly 50% of them are the same.
The average urgent care visit costs patients $71-125 for basic care, with additional costs added for shots, x-rays, and labs. The average emergency room visit costs $1,318.
The average emergency room has a wait time of 2.4 hours, whereas urgent care
centers are able to see walk-in patients within 15-45 minutes
. However, that
wait time does not express the time patients will spend waiting for services
while in the doctor's office. In most cases, an urgent care center helps
patients through the system much faster, as its care is more limited and
Patients in ERs can expect to wait hours in their rooms if a more traumatic case enters the ER. In urgent care centers, patients rarely experience this type of issue, as major traumas are directed to ERs.
Emergency Rooms and Urgent Care Similarities
Both emergency rooms and urgent care centers are staffed with compassionate
health care providers. In most cases both facilities will have
nurses available. Occasionally an urgent care center will have RNs or
lieu of doctors
. Before you go, you should know the difference between doctors and nurse practitioners.
In most cases, your insurance will cover either an urgent care center or an emergency room. Exceptions include unnecessary visits and out-of-network facilities. However, patients should be aware that their co-pay is based on the facility they visit. It is usually much cheaper to go to urgent care centers than ERs.
Many urgent care centers offer x-rays, just like emergency rooms. In some areas, urgent care centers have MRIs, CAT scans, and in-house laboratories just like hospitals. Both urgent care centers and ERs are able to give patients shots, medications, IVs, and even treatment plans.
Neither ERs nor urgent care centers are equipped to deal with non-emergency,
chronic conditions. Patients with chronic needs such as depression or diabetes
need to be seen by a primary care physician.
Being informed about the differences and similarities between these kinds of care is important. Whether you choose to receive care from an urgent care center or an emergency room, it is important to follow-up with additional treatments as necessary. Ready to find urgent care near you?
Related Urgent Care FAQs
Is Urgent Care Covered by Insurance?
Are Urgent Cares Open on Weekends and Holidays?
Do I Need an Appointment for an Urgent Care?
How Long Do I Have to Wait at an Urgent Care?
Is Urgent Care Covered by Medicare?
How Much Does Urgent Care Cost?
Are Urgent Care Centers Expensive?