When you’re feeling sick and need help fast, the last thing you want to do is take time trying to decide whether the emergency room or urgent care is best. There are key differences between the two, and choosing wrong could cost you time, money—and even your health.

Urgent care centers treat many of the same minor injuries and illnesses as your family doctor—including respiratory infections, cuts, and sprains—but with the convenience of longer hours and walk-in appointments. The ER can treat those conditions too, but you’ll likely end up waiting three to four hours to be seen, as opposed to 30 to 60 minutes in an urgent care clinic.

There are major differences when comparing urgent care centers to an emergency room which you’d benefit from knowing if and when you have to make a decision between the two.

Services

While emergency rooms are the best option om cases where conditions are life-threatening, urgent care medical professionals are equipped to respond quickly to a variety of non-life threatening illnesses and injuries.

Urgent care centers provide affordable and convenient services such as

  • Cold and flu
  • Fractures and sprains
  • Infections
  • Minor burns
  • Lacerations

Emergency rooms serve well for life-threatening conditions such as

  • Seizures
  • Severe burns
  • Drug overdoses
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • Severe chest pain

Payment and Wait

Emergency rooms operate by treating patients with the most server and demanding conditions first. This leaves those with less severe problems to wait. Patients with less severe health concerns can see wait times well beyond a few hours at an ER, but see a significantly lower wait time at an urgent care.

Urgent care centers are typically around seven times cheaper (averaging a cost of $200) than a visit to the emergency room (averaging cost of $1,400). Patients that go to the ER often face higher co-pays and multiple charges.

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