When to Choose an Urgent Care Center Over the ER

It's a question as old as the industrial pack of Band-Aids you bought at Costco in 2006 because they were on sale that week: urgent care or emergency room care? The answer, unfortunately, might be just as hard as removing those bandages from a wounded leg. Like everything, it all comes down to what you're looking to get the best deal on.

Of course, it's strange to speak about bargain-hunting when you're trying to find urgent care centers to deal with an illness or a mildly serious injury, but it's a valid point. After all, the health care system in America is notorious for its overcharges and its reliance on unpreparedness. So, beat the system. Be prepared for the worst before it happens.

Urgent care or ER care? Here are the match-ups.

Waiting Times
The Match-Up: First, the facts. Chances are good that you can find urgent care centers in your area that are open seven days a week and 24 hours a day. That puts them on even ground with ERs. However, ERs are known for their overcrowded waiting rooms, and fortunately for you, the same can't be said for urgent care facilities. In fact, one study found that the average wait time in urgent care was only about 15 minutes.
The Winner: It's important to note that the nature of your condition will determine whether or not you should head to urgent care or the ER. But if you're trying to save time (and it's not an emergency), opt for urgent care.

Level of Care
The Match-Up: Urgent care centers are run by physicians and professional nurses, just like ERs. The difference, however, lies in what you'd visit an urgent care center for versus what you'd head to the ER for. It can be summed up in one hyphenated phrase: life-threatening conditions. ERs have doctors staffed at all times in order to treat serious illnesses and injuries, while urgent care facilities are only staffed with physicians nearly 65% of the time.
The Winner: In the end, it's going to ultimately depend on the nature of your illness or injury. When you're life's in danger, head to the ER. Otherwise, save some time -- and maybe even some money -- at urgent care.

Overall Costs
The Match-Up: It's all very much dependent on specific insurance plans, but studies have proven in the past that most providers are more willing to cover urgent care trips over ER visits. The average co-pay for urgent care is around $20, compared to $50 for ERs. However, after total plan coverage, you could be left with nearly $1,000 in total ER costs.
The Winner: Urgent care is the clear winner here, though remember that additional services like x-rays and prescriptions may add to your overall visitation fee.

For more information on cost, find urgent care centers and ERs in your area and start comparing costs.