Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Difference Between Emergency Rooms and Urgent Care Facilities

At one point or another most of us have had to rush to the emergency room; broken bones, traumatic injuries and severe illness is what the ER is meant to treat. Unfortunately, many people are unaware of this fact, and often view the emergency room as a catch-all solution when their primary care office is not open or available. Likewise, people without health insurance tend to visit the ER for minor injuries and illnesses; because these facilities must give treatment.
The major downside is that a trip to the emergency room (for whatever reason) can easily cost you an arm and a leg. This is why urgent care facilities exist, and why more people need to understand the difference between them and the ER. If you are in the process of selecting small group health insurance, it is important to remember that your coverage will be limited to an extent. It will cover a portion of your medical expenses, but not all of them. When you factor in the high cost of emergency room visits, it literally pays to know why an urgent care facility is often the better choice for treatment. Here is an overview of the differences between the two, and the pros and cons of each.

What is the Difference between the ER and an Urgent Care Facility?
  • An emergency room (ER) is meant to treat life-threatening injuries or symptoms; you should call 911 if you have troubles breathing, have sudden or severe pain or are experiencing heavy bleeding (among other things)
  • The ER is open 24/7; you are guaranteed to receive treatment any time of the day (which is why the service is so expensive)
  • An ER visit generally costs 4x as much as a trip to an urgent care facility and 2x as much as one to your primary care physician; this is why you should only go there if there is an emergency
  • The ER serves patients based on need; wait times are generally very long, as treatment is provided to people on a scale of injury severity
  • An urgent care facility is recommended for non-life-threatening conditions (i.e. any condition that would not call for a visit to the ER)
  • Urgent care facilities have doctors, nurses and assistants on staff; they offer a full range of medical treatment services, including writing prescriptions
  • Urgent care facilities are not open 24/7, but they do often offer extended hours for their patients
  • The cost for treatment at urgent care facilities is much less than the ER, and wait times are nowhere near as long (treatment is based on a first come first serve basis)
Thus, it is easy to see the benefits of going to an urgent care facility vs. the emergency room. While the latter are necessary for life-threatening conditions, the majority of ER patients would be better served elsewhere. Also, given that the cost of treatment at urgent care facilities is cheaper than the ER, most small group health insurance plans will cover a portion of the medical bills incurred at them. Be sure to evaluate your plan thoroughly in this regard before making a decision.
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