Urgent Care or Emergency Room?

What’s the Difference between Urgent Care and the Emergency Room?

At some point, you may wonder if you should go to the emergency room or an urgent care clinic. It’s a good idea to learn the difference between urgent care and the ER before a medical crisis occurs. In these difficult moments, it’s important to properly weigh your options to receive the best care possible while avoiding long wait times and costly medical bills. Patients looking happy

Each type of facility has its own important role in protecting your health. If your life is in immediate danger, call an ambulance or head to the closest ER right away. If you could benefit from fast medical care, but it’s not an emergency, an urgent care clinic can provide the help you need.

Here’s a guide to help you determine whether to visit an urgent care clinic or an emergency room.

When to Visit an Emergency Room

Emergency rooms have specialized equipment and procedures to deliver life-saving medical care. If you have a life-threatening injury or illness, the correct medical facility for you is the emergency room. If you’re experiencing any of the following medical conditions, you should go to an emergency room right away:

  • Chest Pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden numbness or paralysis of a limb
  • Fainting or seizures
  • Excessive or uncontrolled bleeding
  • Head injuries
  • Sudden disorientation, confusion, or changes in vision
  • Serious burns
  • Suicidal thoughts or psychosis
  • Any fever in babies under 2 months old, or a fever of 103°F or higher in adults
  • Abdominal pain that is strong and localized
  • Stroke or heart attack symptoms
  • Blood in your vomit or when coughing
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Nonstop diarrhea or vomiting
  • Fractures with an open wound
  • Inhalation of noxious fumes


When to Go to an Urgent Care Clinic

arm in cast
child arm with a cast

Urgent care clinics like Physicians Immediate Care are equipped to handle non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries. When you need quick care, but your condition is not an emergency, an urgent care clinic is a good choice. Urgent care clinics have extended hours to operate outside of when most primary care doctors are available, so you can see a medical provider quickly.

For a twisted ankle, stomach bug, or a bad cough, urgent care may be your best option over a potentially long and expensive visit to the ER. At Physicians Immediate Care, our providers routinely treat a wide variety of illnesses and injuries, from stitches and broken bones to sinus infections and the flu. We also offer things like immunizations and convenient walk-in physicals.

To see a list of the most common ailments and injuries that we treat at our urgent care clinic, check out our services page.

Urgent care facilities generally see patients on a first-come, first-serve basis. However, at Physicians Immediate Care you can use our Urgent Care Pass to choose a time that best fits your schedule.

Cost Comparison

While it may be tempting to head straight for the ER when experiencing a medical problem, it’s important to be aware that if you visit the ER when emergency care is not needed, you could end up paying high out-of-pocket costs. The cost of a visit to an urgent care clinic will generally be significantly lower than a visit to the ER. Typically you’ll only have one charge at an urgent care center versus two charges at an emergency room (one for the emergency room itself and one for the physician).

The prices for urgent care at our clinics is detailed in our blog on the cost of urgent care.

Most health plans include urgent care in their networks. Contact your insurance provider to learn more about what’s included in your coverage. Click here for a list of insurance plans we accept. If you don’t have insurance, we also offer self-pay pricing, which you can find here.

Get the Right Care at the Right Time

Here are a few key points to consider when experiencing a medical problem:

  • What is the severity of your condition?
  • Will waiting for care be potentially life-threatening?
  • What is covered by your insurance provider?

As always, if you aren’t sure what constitutes an emergency or what kind of visits are covered by your plan, contact your insurance provider or check your plan documents. We’ve also created an urgency chart to help you determine where to seek medical care. Learning the difference between the kinds of care an urgent care clinic provides compared to an emergency room can help save you time, money and get you the best care you need.

We hope that you use this guide to create your own action plan so that if an unexpected crisis occurs you can decide if you need to go to an urgent care or emergency room.

Getting and staying healthy can be difficult. At Physicians Immediate Care, we aim to make this job a bit easier by offering affordable options for things like immunizationsflu shots, and yearly physicals. You can find a nearby clinic or reserve a time for your visit here.