What’s the better option – a visit to the ER or an urgent care clinic? (Guest Post)

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Do you know what an urgent care clinic is? Many people don’t, but to choose between a trip to the emergency room or urgent care clinic you need to figure out which is which. Urgent care facilities haven’t been around for a long time, starting up in the late 90s because patients were complaining that their doctors were unavailable to treat illnesses that weren’t too serious.

To put things in a very basic perspective, an urgent care facility is a clinic that is the midpoint between a trip to a normal doctor’s office and the ER. Trips to it are covered under most health insurance plans. The main bonus is being able to treat non-life-threatening injuries and ailments outside normal doctors’ hours without the costs associated with the ER.

Choosing whether you need an urgent care clinic trip instead of one to the ER is not easy, though. Of course, if you happen to have a potentially fatal injury or a sudden catastrophic ailment, a trip to the ER is stressed upon. What about the minor illnesses out there? Which of these will prompt a visit to a clinic? Would you need the emergency room instead in some situations? Here’s how to decide.

Know Your Sicknesses

This is the easiest way to decide between the two. Figure out what your symptoms are and try to self-diagnose based on these. Typical symptoms that would send you to the ER include:

  • Trouble breathing (asthma attacks, hyperventilation, tightness of the chest)
  • Diarrhea, extreme nausea, vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Partial blindness, sudden weakness, dizziness
  • Chest pains
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Bloody vomit or coughing

These are just some of the symptoms of common severe life-threatening conditions. If it is after hours and you feel sick but you haven’t seen any of these symptoms, a visit to the ER is completely unnecessary. Take a trip to the urgent care clinic at the hospital or near it instead.

Main Differences Between the Two

  1. Cost (This doesn’t apply to my Canadian readers) – the cost is the biggest difference. An urgent care clinic is far cheaper than a visit to the ER. This is important especially if you don’t have insurance. The ER can be ten times as expensive, so it might be a way better option to get yourself to the urgent care clinic if your symptoms aren’t that bad.
  2. Wait time – If you’re in the ER, know that the staff gives priority based on the severity of the cases. For example, a trauma case will have everyone’s attention immediately upon arrival. You will experience longer wait times when you go here if you don’t arrive in an ambulance.
  3. Operating hours – Both facilities are called 24-hour operations, but you typically won’t see an urgent care facility open at two in the morning in a smaller town. Check the times for local clinics and visit the ER if you have a sudden serious illness affect you during a period in which you know the clinic is closed.

In choosing between the two, you must think about your symptoms, the time, cost and many other factors. As a rule of thumb, visit the ER for life threatening things and the clinic for everything else.

I received compensation for this post.