When you need medical help, you need to know where the nearest medical clinic is or where you can get emergency room care. For a long time, it’s been fairly easy to tell the difference between an emergency room in hospital and a freestanding medical walk in clinic. In recent years an increasing number of hospital systems have created freestanding emergency rooms, which can complicate the issue for patients trying to decide where they should go when they need immediate medical care.
Why Does This Matter?
It matters a great deal that we make the right choice when seeking medical help. Current reports suggest that almost half of visits to the emergency room could have been treated at an urgent care location instead. Not only do all these visits swamp hospital emergency rooms, but they also represent an increased cost for the consumer. The average visit to an emergency room is measured in thousands of dollars, while visits to an urgent care location are generally under $500. Even if you have insurance, there will be at least some out-of-pocket expenses and co-pay requirements that make an urgent care location the smart choice whenever there is no life-threatening emergency. Unfortunately, with the rise of the freestanding emergency room some people may not realize that they have made the wrong choice for clinic care until the bill arrives.
How Do I Tell Which is Which?
In common parlance, the words emergency and urgent are almost interchangeable. In fact, there are plenty of medical needs which are not life-threatening but which do require immediate care by doctors. In the world of the medical clinic, the word “emergency” will almost always mean that you are entering a hospital emergency room, even if it is a freestanding facility. An urgent care location may go by a variety of names, but it will not use the word “emergency” in its title or outdoor signage. If you’re still not sure, just ask the person at the reception desk as soon as you enter. They can let you know whether you have arrived at an urgent care location or a freestanding emergency facility.
What’s the Purpose of Each?
At either facility, you can expect great care. They do have different purposes, however, and knowing this can help you make a decision about which one to visit. The emergency room has all the equipment, facilities, and staff necessary to perform lifesaving surgeries and procedures for the victims of accidents and those suffering from devastating illness. That is one of the reasons for the higher costs of an emergency room because all of these facilities, equipment, and staff must be paid for and maintained. An urgent care location, by contrast, is designed to provide a wide variety of medical care for urgent, but not life-threatening, medical needs. An urgent care location is also a great place to get preventative medicine, vaccinations, physicals, and treatment for chronic conditions.
What Conditions Do People Go to Urgent Care to Have Treated?
Every day about 25,000 people in the United States will sprain an ankle. This is one of the most common reasons people seek medical treatment at an urgent care clinic. Four out of every five urgent care locations can deal with fractures, and the most common complaint heard in the doctor’s office is actually about dizziness. About 70% of the population will experience serious dizziness at some point in life. The most common diagnosis that urgent care gives is related to an upper respiratory condition, and the most common procedure they treat is wound repair. By the year 2030, estimates are that six out of every 10 baby boomers will be dealing with a chronic condition, and chronic conditions are something that urgent care is typically well-equipped to deal with.
There are times when urgent care is the right choice, and other times when the emergency room is what you need. Make sure you know which is which, when to choose each, and where the nearest emergency room and urgent care location is.