Choosing between an Emergency Room (ER) visit or an Urgent Care visit can impact a patient in several ways. A few simple factors can help make the right decision. Simply put, Emergency rooms can handle trauma, x-rays, surgical procedures, and other life-threatening situations, while Urgent Care is equipped to handle non-life threatening situations that can typically be treated at your local doctor’s office.

Most Urgent Care centers are open late and on weekends and are staffed with doctors and nurses who have access to x-ray and a lab onsite. “Urgent Care is an important addition any community because it gives patients options beyond the Emergency Room,” said Dr. Dan Zimmerman of Vibrant Health. Vibrant Health Family Clinics are on a mission to help educate people between the differences and benefits of each type of care and have created a simple comparison chart based on symptoms and illnesses (FAQs).
Infographic showing cost comparison and options between Urgent Care and Emergency Room

Comparing Emergency Care to Urgent Care in River Falls

Dr. Daniel Zimmerman is the Director of Urgent Care at Vibrant Health Family Clinics and notes that, “First and foremost, if you are experiencing a life-threatening event, your first cause of action should be to call 9-1-1.” Dr. Zimmerman points out events that require an Emergency Room visit, such as dealing with major medical trauma. Defining major medical traumas can be difficult, but generally include any event that could cause the loss of life, limb, or eyesight.

Conditions Best Treated at the Emergency Room

  • Heart attacks or chest pain are potentially life-threatening and the ER is the correct choice.
  • Stroke or stroke symptoms may need immediate Emergency Room treatment to prevent possible permanent brain damage and may also require diagnostic imaging scans.
  • Unconscious patients who are unresponsive may need immediate care which is best provided by calling 911 as paramedics can provide potentially life-saving assistance before the hospital is reached.
  • Serious accidents should always prompt a call to 911 or a visit to the ER. If driving there, someone other than the injured person should drive.
  • Uncontrollable bleeding or profuse bleeding of unknown cause or origin should be treated at the ER.
  • Head trauma, specifically any violent trauma to the head, presents a risk of internal bleeding that can lead to dangerous pressure on the brain in the case of a subdural hematoma, so visit the ER.
  • Severe abdominal pain can be a sign of a number of serious conditions best treated at the ER.

People experiencing one or more of these problems should call 9-1-1 immediately, or proceed to the nearest emergency room. Insurance providers cover ER visits for any problem that could cause death, loss of limb, or loss of eyesight.

Also, if you are going into labor, you should head to the nearest hospital for the appropriate care. Pregnant women should consult with their obstetrician and general practitioner for assistance in planning a birthing location and plan.

While the Emergency Room can help care for any medical situation, it often comes at a steep price. The ER costs an average of three times more than a visit to the urgent care. In a non-life threatening situation, you can most likely be treated at an Urgent Care facility.

Urgent medical conditions are ones that are not considered emergencies but still require care within 24 hours.

Conditions Best Treated at Urgent Care

  • Skin rashes and infections generally do not require an ER visit. If concerned, a trip to Urgent Care should suffice, otherwise, you can schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. An exception is a rapidly spreading rash that could be anaphylactic shock.
  • Accidents and falls that do not present immediate risk can usually be cared for by Urgent Care.
  • Asthma/shortness of breath can be a chronic condition requiring a visit to your physician or Urgent Care, or an acute condition due to allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock that requires getting to the ER.
  • Flu or fever and cold/sinus issues normally can be addressed with a visit to Urgent Care, and usually resolve by themselves over time. However, those with severe flu symptoms causing disorientation and difficulty breathing should go to the ER.
  • Joint and muscle pain rarely present immediate risk and can be handled by Urgent Care, unless a serious muscle or ligament tear is involved.
  • Sore throat is usually a problem best handled by visiting Urgent Care if causing concern.
  • Ear aches can require Urgent Care if there is pain involved or impacted wax is damaging the eardrum and causing distress.
  • Injuries/sprains can be treated at Urgent Care, unless the patient is seriously immobilized.
  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) generally require a prescription, which can be provided by an Urgent Care clinic. Unless this is part of a larger problem, an ER visit should be not needed.
  • Simple fractures where the patient is reasonably comfortable and can move around can be treated by Urgent Care, otherwise, the ER may be needed.
  • Cuts and burns, though they can be painful and distressing, do not usually require Emergency Room treatment and can be handled by Urgent Care unless severe.

Urgent Care Healthcare Providers can assist with admissions to an Emergency Room or hospital if needed.

Additionally, Dr. Zimmerman suggests that the wait in an ER can be almost three times the amount of that of an Urgent Care facility.

“We strive to get our Urgent Care patients admitted, treated, and processed within one hour. Going to an Emergency room with less than life-threatening symptoms could have you waiting many more hours, because the ER staff will be focused on the most serious injuries and illnesses first,” said Zimmerman.