When to Visit a Walk-in Urgent Care Center vs the ER

Urgent care

Illnesses, injuries, or other emergencies can happen at any time. These days, people now have the option of choosing whether to make the trip to the emergency room or check in to a facility recognized as ER care without the wait — the walk-in urgent care center. Approximately 110 million people visit the emergency room each year; however, the number of urgent care centers continues to rise. In the United States, for example, there are more than 9,000 walk-in urgent care centers, with anywhere from 50 to 100 new facilities opening each year.

More commonly becoming a convenient quality and cost effective ER alternative, a walk-in urgent care center is available in most neighborhoods, and they often have extended hours or even 24-hour care. Urgent care and clinics often treat patients with illnesses or injuries that are serious, but not life-threatening. Some symptoms that likely warrant a trip to the urgent care clinic include minor sore throats, fever, cuts and wounds. Minor injuries and illnesses such as bronchitis, and allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes, rashes, or minor swelling can also be treated at the walk-in urgent care clinic by trusted experts in emergency care. In fact, research conducted by the Urgent Care Association of America notes that the average clinic treated approximately 342 patients each week and experienced an increase of close to 30 new patients by 2011.

Other factors that make urgent care centers attractive include wait times as well as costs. The average wait time at a walk-in urgent care clinic is around 15 minutes, and approximately 65 percent of clinics have at least one physician on-site during operating hours. Another study conducted by Milliman indicates that anywhere from 44 to 65 percent of ER cases could have been treated in an outpatient urgent care center. Patients can also save on medical costs when taking advantage of the affordable care that the walk-in clinic offers. Comparatively, treatment for a minor illness or injury at the emergency room runs upward of more than $2,000, whereas the same treatment at an urgent care clinic averaged just more than $200.

While urgent care clinics offer a convenient alternative for seeking treatment, there are still times when a visit to the emergency room is critical. ER treatment would be necessary if the patient is experiencing severe stomach or chest pains, shortness of breath, a high fever, third-degree burns, or cuts that require stitches. Other more serious cases that require ER treatment include severe allergic reactions, such as swelling that causes difficulty in breathing, and also severe head and neck injuries or internal bleeding.

Walk-in urgent care centers and emergency rooms can both be viable options for receiving medical treatment. It all depends on the severity of the illness or injury. The bottom line is if it doesn’t threaten your livelihood or your life, then a visit to the urgent care center should suffice.

Have you ever experienced a visit to an urgent care center? How do they compare to a visit to the ER? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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