Published on May 23, 2017

Urgent Care vs Emergency Room

Patients waiting in Emergency Room.

Accidents are unpredictable and can occur at a moment’s notice. When an accident occurs it is difficult to rationally decipher what appropriate actions need to be taken. Most people have been trained to immediately go to the emergency room however, depending upon the severity of the injury, this might not be the best solution.

Urgent care centers are facilities that function similarly to a primary care office, expect there is no appointment necessary and they have extended after care hours. They are trained to treat non-life threatening conditions that need immediate medical attention. Emergency Rooms visits should be reserved for true emergencies, such as chest pain and severe injuries. In general, an emergency condition is one that can permanently impair or endanger the life of an individual.

Deciding which symptoms indicate a need for the emergency department versus the urgent care can be challenging. A general rule of thumb is that if the condition is non-life threatening, and will not permanently impair or endanger your life if not treated immediately, then an urgent care facility may be appropriate.

Emergency Room

Urgent Care

Severe Chest Pain Minor Back Pain
(Signs of) Heart Attack Minor lacerations and sutures
(Signs of) Stroke Sick Visits
Compound fracture (bone protrudes through skin) Bronchitis
Heavy, uncontrollable breathing Mild asthma
Deep knife wounds or gunshot wounds Sports and camp physicals
Moderate to severe burns Sprain/ broken bones
Difficulty breathing/ Shortness of breath Flu/ Cold symptoms
Severe Abdominal Pain Seasonal allergies
Poisoning Animal/ Insect bites/ stings
Allergic reactions Minor burns/ wound care
High Fevers (especially in newborns- less than 3 months old) Skin rash/ poison ivy
Convulsions, seizures or loss of consciousness Vomiting/ diarrhea
Serious head, neck or back injury/ paralysis Urinary Tract Infections/ Painful urination
Pregnancy-related problems
Suicidal or homicidal feelings

Remember, ER visits should be reserved for true emergencies, such as chest pain and severe injuries. Seemingly small injuries and illnesses can be examined by urgent care physicians. If greater care is needed, staff will direct patients to the proper healthcare provider, or, if it is a true emergency, they will transfer patients directly to a hospital emergency room for further treatment. Remember if an accident occurs where the person is having difficulty breathing, is unresponsive, or is unconscious please call 9-1-1.

Avoid the wait times

Taking into consideration the severity of your symptoms before you go to the emergency room can help you to avoid the notoriously long wait times. According to the CDC in 2014, the median wait times to be seen at the emergency department were 30 minutes. The reason for the long wait times is that patients are treated according to the severity of their symptoms, those with more life threatening conditions take top priority. Knowing when to go where can help you skip the wait time.

Lower Costs

Not only can you save time but you can also save money. According to a study done by the National Institute of Health in 2013 the average costs of an emergency room visit totaled at $1,233. That figure did not include fees associated with diagnostic or lab tests. The average cost for a visit to an urgent care facility can range from $50 to $150 depending upon your condition and whether or not you have health insurance.

Another point to consider in terms of costs from an emergency department visit, is whether or not your insurance will cover your visit. Emergency departments are required by law to treat everyone regardless of their ability to pay, however insurance companies have the authority to decide what services they will and will not cover.

Access to Services

While emergency departments do have more accessibility to hospital services, many urgent care facilities can provided similar medical services. Urgent care facilities are staffed by physicians and nurse practitioners who are able to provide the same quality medical services as those who work in emergency departments. They can provide laboratory services such as blood work, x-rays, and CAT scans. Urgent care facilities offer preventative services such as vaccinations, flu shots, physicals, gynecological exams, drug screenings, and even well baby checks. They can also administer IVs, medications, and prescriptions. Not only are they great facilities to go to for non-life threatening emergencies but they can also provide routine medical services.

While no one can plan for an accident, knowing the appropriate actions to take can help save time and money. Only you know the severity of your symptoms so always chose the option that works best for your situation.

Remember if an accident occurs where the person is having difficulty breathing, is unresponsive, or is unconscious please call 9-1-1.

Urgent Care Locations

UNC Urgent Care at Clayton
34 Healthpark Way
Suite 100
Clayton, NC 27520
Main Phone: 919-585-8850
Fax: 919-585-8870

Sunday, Closed
Monday- Friday, 8 a.m.- 7 p.m.
Saturday, Closed

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