The Difference Between an Emergency Room and Urgent Care

Urgent care facility

Local urgent care centers are there for you when you need urgent medical care, as the name implies. That being said, they’re not emergency rooms, which are for medical emergencies. Though it might not seem like there’s a difference, this distinction matters. Here’s why.

Emergency rooms are meant for emergencies.

It’s already been said, and it’s pretty obvious, but it’s important that you know that emergency rooms are really for medical emergencies. They’re for people who are suffering from life-threatening injuries and illnesses. For example, if you have severe chest pain, difficulty breathing, a compound fracture, or uncontrollable bleeding, you should go to the emergency room. If you have a bad headache, a UTI, or an allergic reaction to something, you should go to an urgent care center.

Urgent care is cheaper.

Another reason to choose urgent care over the ER is because it’s more affordable. According to, if you go to the ER to get treatment for your allergies, acute bronchitis, earache, sore throat, or pink eye, you’ll be respectively charged about $345, $595, $400, $525, and $370. Had you gone to urgent care, you would have only been respectively charged $97, $127, $110, $94, or $102.

Urgent care is faster.

Emergency rooms take patients in order of severity, because they have to. It’s the pragmatic thing to do. Consequently, people with serious — but minor — injuries and illnesses wind up having to wait hours and hours to see a doctor. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average ER wait time is 30 minutes and the average treatment time is 90 minutes. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, 69% of urgent care centers have wait times of less than 20 minutes, 28% have wait times between 21 and 40 minutes and only three percent have more than a 40 minute waits.

When you have a medical emergency, you need to go to the emergency room. It’s that simple. When your life isn’t in danger and you need medical attention urgently, you need to go to an urgent care clinic. Not only will you get faster, more affordable treatment, you won’t tie up the doctors at the ER whose time is extremely valuable.

If you have any questions about urgent care, feel free to share in the comments.

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