When unexpected health mishaps arise, many people’s first reaction is to head to an emergency room. But when those illnesses and injuries aren’t true emergencies, not knowing the best option for care can end up costing both time and money.
So how can you know where to go when medical attention is needed?
Urgency or emergency?
Urgent care centers provide a way to keep up with patients’ daily healthcare needs, serving as a vital link between the emergency room and primary care physicians.
“Urgent care is growing across the country because it provides patients with an alternative to the emergency room, which can be too costly and time-consuming for situations like common illnesses and minor injuries,” said Dr. Robert Kimball, president of the board of directors, Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA). “While ERs are best equipped to handle life-threatening illnesses and injuries, it’s important that patients are aware that there are more affordable options available for less serious situations.”
Due to shorter wait times – 90 percent of urgent care centers offer a wait time of 30 minutes or less, according to the 2015 UCAOA Benchmarking Survey – and much lower prices, urgent care centers are a more convenient and affordable option than, but not a substitute for, an emergency room.
When care is needed for true emergency situations, such as heart attacks, strokes, major bleeding or severe burns, it’s vital to go to an emergency room immediately, as urgent care centers are not equipped or designed to treat life- or limb-threatening conditions.
Dollars and sense
When patients visit an emergency room for a non-emergency, they risk incurring a substantial financial loss. Emergency rooms are more expensive, charging an average of $1,300 for treatment of non-life-threatening situations, while urgent care centers charge an average of just $150, according to a Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.
Plus, 27 percent of all emergency room visits could take place at an urgent care center, which would save American consumers approximately $4.4 billion annually, according to “Health Affairs.” Additionally, many insurance plans feature lower co-pays for urgent care services than treatment in an emergency room.
Understanding the options
“With a growing variety of facilities available, patients need to take care to understand their options,” Kimball said. “The rise of free-standing emergency rooms is especially concerning because they look like urgent care centers. While they may seem convenient at the time, the emergency room prices can cause sticker shock for patients who aren’t aware of the distinction.”
Free-standing emergency rooms are not physically connected to a hospital and are located in areas similar to urgent care centers, so it can be easy to confuse the two. A free-standing emergency room will offer emergency care – and charge emergency room prices. Patients should be sure to confirm the type of facility they’re visiting, as treatment at a free-standing ER may cost thousands of dollars more than an urgent care center.
To find a conveniently located urgent care center near you, visit whereisurgentcare.com.