Choosing the Right Type of Healthcare Facility: Emergency Room vs Urgent Care

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medical-billing-advocate_112067315We’ve all had ailments that have caused us to seek out expert medical advice and treatment. But with so many different types of healthcare facilities that exist, how do you know which type of facility is best for your particular problem? Some facilities are better suited for true emergencies. Others are better suited for urgent or non-life-threatening situations that still require treatment. However, not all facility types charge the same amount for the same treatment. Emergency rooms can cause you to quickly rack up a huge bill. Some other facility types might only charge a fraction of what the ER would for equivalent service. So how do you know which is best for your health while being conscientious of your bank account?

First, know that if you are having a true health emergency, you should call 911 and follow their instructions. In emergency situations, you must first do what is best for your health. However, if your situation is not an emergency, you might have the opportunity to make a decision on what facility would be the best option.

If you have health insurance, it would be wise to contact your health insurance carrier. Inquire about what facilities are in your network so that you can be sure not to receive an astronomical bill from an out-of-network facility.

Emergency Room vs Urgent Care

The following is a list of common potential emergencies that could constitute going to an emergency room provided by Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. This is not a complete list of ailments or conditions that are considered emergencies. As a rule, anything that could potentially threaten your life or cause a permanent impairment constitutes a visit to the emergency room.

Fainting or loss of consciousness

Chest pain

Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Severe abdominal pain

Severe headache


Vehicle accidents

The level of care that you might need can vary greatly between an emergency facility and an urgent care facility. Urgent care centers are designed to treat minor illnesses and urgencies that are not life-threatening, such as treatment for the following:

Urinary tract infections



Cold and flu

Minor cuts

Minor pains

In some instances, the urgent care facility should refer you to an emergency facility if the staff physicians feel that your condition requires treatment that they are not equipped to offer.

It is important that if you have a minor health condition that you go to the appropriate facility to help prevent receiving a large medical bill. In some instances, a visit to your family practitioner might even suffice. However, the potential for an erroneous charge on a medical bill is possible at any healthcare facility. If you feel that you have been charged incorrectly or unfairly, it’s important that you take action as soon as possible. Contact that facility’s billing department and make your concerns known. If you cannot get a satisfactory resolution, contact a reputable medical billing advocate, such as Medical Billing Advocates of America. We can put you in touch with our Consumer Division at our sister company, Medical Recovery Services.



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11 responses to “Choosing the Right Type of Healthcare Facility: Emergency Room vs Urgent Care”

  1. B Clift says:

    Only been to urgent care 2 times…and both times they said go to ER. The 1st time I did because it involved my vision. The 2nd time an EKG was done, Dr said it looked normal, but had nothing to compare it too, so I should go to ER because of the pain…I have angina.

    The very reason I went to Urgent Care was to avoid ER. as long as test showed no heart attack…I passed. I do have heart issues.

  2. Cindy Tesler says:

    Thanks for pointing out the differences between an emergency room and an urgent care, and that anything that could potentially threaten your life or cause permanent impairment constitutes a visit to the emergency room. You also mention that the level of care that you will receive greatly depends on if you go to an emergency room or an urgent care as well. I think it’s important to already have an emergency room picked out for your family so that if an accident does happen you already know where to go right away.

  3. Jasper says:

    The emergency room is the best place to go in an emergency. However, I am glad that urgent care facilities exist because there are times that sickness needs to be addressed right away, but aren’t immediately life threatening. By choosing an urgent care facility in this scenario, you are freeing up valuable resources in the emergency room for someone else.

  4. Tomas says:

    My wife has been having some health issues recently. I saw an urgent care clinic in my area while driving yesterday, and I wanted to know what the difference was between urgent care and an emergency room. I didn’t realize that an emergency room is better equipped to deal with ailments or conditions that can threaten life or cause permanent damage. I’ll be sure to remember this if my wife needs emergency medical treatment.

  5. Bernard says:

    It’s true that some health care facilities are better suited for emergencies than others. It’s important to find a facility that you feel can properly address your health concerns and help you overcome those issues. I would advise that you find a good health care facility in the area far in advance before an emergency so you can do the proper research on them.

  6. Tyler says:

    I didn’t realize that different health care clinics would specialize in different types of care. It makes sense that the ER is meant for serious or life-threatening injury or illness while an urgent care can handle serious issues that aren’t an immediate problem. I’ll have to remember this for my wife because she’s been having some health issues and taking her to the right clinic could really help make sure she gets the right type of care for her situation.

  7. Afton says:

    I didn’t realize that brochitis and UTIs can be treated at urgent care centers. My sister often gets bronchitis. Hopefully, she can use this info to save her money on deductible costs.

  8. Max says:

    I really like how you talked about urgent care centers being able to provide help with minor illnesses and non life-threatening issues that require medical attention. We’ve noticed a lot of urgent care centers coming up in our area, and I think that knowing the best times to use those would be helpful for us to take advantage of them. I’m going to have to see what I can do to use the local urgent care center, and keep in mind that its a great option when something isn’t an emergency! Thank you!

  9. Kenneth says:

    Last week my son cut himself with a pocket knife that required stitches. We weren’t sure whether we should get him to urgent care or the emergency room. Looking back it was probably acceptable for urgent care, as his life wasn’t threatened.

  10. Kenneth says:

    I like that you mentioned the cost that comes with going to the emergency room. You want to be sure that if your life is in danger that you get the help you need, but if it is minor there are other options than the ER. Urgent care is just as equipped and trained to help with less threatening issues at a lower cost.

  11. Alexandria says:

    My best friend is struggling to find a good medical center or share care. She needs to find one nearby the new home she just moved into. I think however she will not have to worry too much about this since the treatment she needs does not qualify under the requirements to visit an emergency room.