When Urgent Care is a Better Option than the Emergency Room


When it comes to emergency care and emergency rooms in hospitals, what exactly is a true emergency? It is not uncommon to walk into an emergency room and see an overly-concerned parent bringing in a child with a small scrape, an uninsured person visiting the ER for an ear infection because lack of insurance prohibits doctor visits, and a person with severe chest pain. Of those three, the person with chest pain is experiencing a true emergency. That pain could be an indicator of an impending heart attack.

A real emergency is an event that could result in loss of a limb or loss of life. Chest pain and injuries due to serious accidents or gunshots are priorities in hospital emergency rooms. Loss of consciousness, abdominal pain that could indicate appendicitis and broken limbs are also examples. Many people in emergency room waiting areas complain about long waits, but they are also usually the ones who come in with issues such as a sprained ankle or back pain. Health experts emphasize that emergency rooms never have been and never will be based on the concept of first come, first served.

They also point out the topic of urgent care. This is several steps down from emergency care, and it includes issues that need to be addressed quickly. Cuts that may need stitches, possible infections, sprained ankles, dog bites and severe muscular pains are all examples of incidents that require prompt attention but are not considered threatening enough to send a person to the emergency room. Urgent care clinics are usually open past regular business hours. This means a person who has an issue such as a cold or sore throat that needs attention but not immediate attention could also be seen if it is not possible to come in during day hours to a physician’s office. At urgent care clinics, people are usually seen in the order the show up.

Health experts recommend urgent care clinics for issues that are not true emergencies, because people who need urgent but not emergency care will almost always be seen faster at an urgent care clinic. Emergency rooms are crowded, busy and very expensive. It is much more affordable to visit an urgent care clinic. Insurance companies assign higher copay amounts to emergency room visits than they do to urgent care visits. For example, an insurer who may charge a $20 copay for a regular doctor visit may also charge $100 for an emergency room visit. However, the copay for urgent care on that scale would likely be about $40 or $50.

People who visit emergency rooms for all health issues instead of obtaining insurance these days are only hurting themselves. Affordable plans can cost a person much less than even half of one emergency room visit for a sore throat today. Emergency room care includes high fees for the use of emergency services as well as lab fees, testing fees and many other increased charges. For those who have free medical care, it is important to take advantage of urgent care services when an issue must be addressed immediately. Always remember that if the issue may not result in loss of a limb or life, visit the urgent care clinic to avoid waiting and overcrowding the emergency room. It is also a courtesy to people who are suffering true emergencies and the staff who need to treat them. To learn more about what insurance covers or what affordable options are newly available, discuss concerns with an agent.

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