It's 7pm on a Saturday, your child has a high fever, things are getting worse and you need quick medical attention. Where do you take them?
If you go to urgent care your provider might suggest you be transferred to an ER for higher level of care. You can’t afford to pay for two sets of bills, but your child needs medical attention now. What do you do?
Fortunately there are a few good options – some better than others. Many people base their decision on cost. Both hospitals and Freestanding ERs can handle everything that an urgent care can, but as most know that “one-stop shop” convenience usually comes with a hefty price tag.
While there are many sides to this debate, there are some solid guidelines that can help you determine which venue is best for your acute medical need.
Choosing Between an ER and Urgent Care
Basically, Freestanding ERs and Hospital ERs both provide great emergency care and urgent cares are there to handle everything else. It is important to note that sometime price can’t factor into this call. Sometimes the decision has to be driven by the severity of the medical problem. If there is a definite medical emergency call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Serious bleeding, head injuries, major fractures, ingestion of poison, chest pain, stroke like symptoms – these types of conditions all need immediate and serious attention and there is no substitute for the ER in these circumstances.
Both hospital and freestanding ERs are a trusted and reliable choice, but as we know they are not always convenient and they definitely are not cheap. The good news is that According to an independent survey, only 1/3rd of people attending an E.R needed actual emergency care! If you know loss of a limb or life are not on the line, spare your pocket book. There are better choices out there.
So, What exactly are Urgent Care Centers For?
Urgent Care Centers bridge the gap between the services provided in an emergency room and services provided in a primary care physician office. They treat a broad range of acute medical conditions on a walk-in basis. The list is long but some examples include, lacerations, fractures, cough, fever, sore throats, urinary infections, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, STD checks, back pain, abscesses, and ankle sprains. Some even provide DOT physicals and manage worker’s comp cases. They often provide flu shots and school physicals as well. The majority of urgent care centers are open 7 days per week. Appointments are not required but many offer a same day appointment system that allows you to wait at home instead of in their lobby. Wait times are generally short. Most all are open until 8 or 9 pm and some as late as 11pm. They are usually staffed by mid-level providers or family care physicians. They can provide most of the same services available in a local physician’s office with the addition of onsite labs and x-ray machines. They usually do not have the specialized medical equipment or emergency trained doctors needed for life-threatening medical conditions.
Cost is where they really shine. Urgent care centers provide quality medical care and they are really affordable. They often offer cash-pay options for those without insurance and most are in-network with all major insurance plans. Some even take Medicare and Medicaid. Network status is important to note surprise bills and battles with your insurer later. Unlike emergency room bills, out-of-network urgent care centers are usually not covered.
In summary, both ERs and urgent cares address the need for quick medical assistance. If you would typically visit your doctor, but they are unavailable due to the day of the week, the time of day or if they are simply booked, then urgent care is usually the best place to seek medical assistance quickly. Many young people don’t have primary doctor. For them, urgent care centers are a great choice for their occasional medical issues as well.