3 Differences Between Emergency And Urgent Care

If you're really sick, you might be confused as to whether you should go to the emergency room or seek urgent care. If you have a minor illness that isn't urgent or life-threatening, but you can't get in to see your doctor right away, you may want to stick with urgent care. Doing so will likely save you money, as a visit to the emergency room is usually very expensive. However, there are certain situations where emergency care is the better option.

To help you know which one to choose, here are three differences between emergency and urgent care.

1. Diagnostic Testing

Even though urgent care might be the less expensive route, not all urgent care centers have the necessary equipment for diagnostic testing. This is important because if you have a sudden onset of symptoms, getting a quick and accurate diagnosis is often the first thing a physician will want to do.

X-rays, electrocardiograms (EKG), and blood tests can all be done at urgent care, but a CT scan or MRI is usually only performed in an emergency room. 

2. Wait Times

If you are short on time but still think you need to see a doctor, you will want to go to the place that has the shortest wait times. On average, the wait time in an emergency room is about 30 minutes before being seen and 90 minutes to be treated. This means it's not uncommon to spend over two hours in the emergency room. Doctors normally practice triage, however, which means if you are deathly ill or have had a serious accident, you will most likely get seen right away.

On average, urgent care is a little bit quicker with about 57 percent of those going to urgent care having a wait time of less than 15 minutes. It should also be noted that not all urgent care centers are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which is usually the case with emergency rooms.

3. Level of Care

Some people feel more comfortable going to the emergency room instead of urgent care because of the level of care they will receive. Emergency room physicians are usually equipped to handle complex medical cases, serious accidents, and other types of health crises. There are also other specialists, such as cardiologists, that are available in the emergency room.

This is not always the case with urgent care. In many cases, an urgent care doctor will refer you to a specialist, who you may have to see at a later time.