Cost Comparison: Emergency Rooms vs. Urgent Care Centers
Emergency rooms provide excellent care, but you can wait eons if you have a non-life-threatening problem and still pay through the nose. Understandably, ERs serve patients based on the severity of the problem and charge for access to their wide-ranging facilities.
The wait at urgent care centers, on the other hand, can be minimal, and the cost for services often runs one-fourth of what you'll pay at a hospital or one-half for a visit to your doctor.
Sometimes called a "doc in a box," these freestanding walk-in centers usually offer extended hours. Staffed by physicians, nurses, and fully-trained assistants, urgent care centers provide solid, basic care for non-life-threatening medical situations. Most can perform basic X-rays and lab work and dispense prescriptions.
Another difference between an ER and an urgent-care center is availability. ERs are required to provide 24-hour emergency care, whereas privately funded urgent care centers have the right to establish set hours.
If you experience symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, or feel your "life or limb" is in danger, go directly to an ER or call 911 and do not pass go. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), you should visit the ER if you have any of the following warning signs:
- Chest pain or pressure
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Sudden or severe pain
- Coughing or vomiting blood
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Sudden dizziness, weakness, or changes in vision
- Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Changes in mental status, such as confusion
- Heavy bleeding
- Large open wounds
- Sudden change in vision
- Chest pain
- Sudden weakness
- Trouble breathing
- Major burns
- Spinal injuries
- Severe head injury
- Loss of consciousness
- Abdominal pain
The ACEP recommends you visit an urgent care center for:
- Minor broken bones
- Mild asthma attacks
- Minor infections
- Small cuts
- Sore throats
- Minor burns
- Urinary tract infections
- Pelvic infections
We researched cost comparisons for the nine most common reasons people visit the ER. Estimates do not include medications or other follow-up services. The cost estimates were determined by calculating the average allowed amount on claims submitted for the Medica Choice Network. All costs represent a single visit.
The average urgent care center charges $97 for allergy-related problems, whereas ERs standardly charge $345.
2. Bronchitis (Acute)
Urgent care average pricing is $127, while ER charges average $595.
This common childhood ailment will run $110 at an urgent care center and $400 at an ER.
4. Sore Throat
Visit an urgent care center for a sore throat, and your average bill will be $94; at an ER, the average tab comes to $525.
5. Pink Eye
Irritating, but not life threatening, Pink Eye runs $102 at urgent care and $370 at an ER.
This inflammation of the sinuses can result in an infection, so it should be treated if the problem persists. Urgent care will charge $112 and ERs $617.
7. Strep Throat
"Streptococcal pharyngitis" usually appears suddenly with severe sore throat pain. It can be particularly frightening for children, is highly contagious, and requires immediate treatment, but an urgent care center will charge just $111 for a visit and an ER $531.
8. Upper Respiratory Infections
It's particularly important that those with asthma or emphysema deal with upper respiratory infections before they turn into pneumonia. Urgent care will charge $111, with the average ER bill coming to $486. If you're experiencing severe difficulties breathing, however, check with an urgent care center to ascertain if you should go directly to an ER for treatment.
9. Urinary Tract Infections
Experts recommend you see a doctor as soon as you experience urinary tract infection symptoms. Treatment at urgent care will run $110, as opposed to $665 for a visit to the ER.
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