Urgent Care vs. the Emergency Room: Helping Your Employees Make a Smart Choice.

Urgent care is everywhere. Learn how it can help employees save money.

Have you noticed urgent care centers popping up where you live and work in the past several years? These types of care locations are a growing trend that began in the 1990s, as a way to serve the majority of Americans who don’t have access to a doctor through their primary care office on nights and weekends. When urgent care centers are used correctly, they can be a great place for your employees to get care when they need it – and potentially save an average of $1,000 or more versus a trip to the emergency room. Read on to find out how you can best advise your employees to utilize urgent care centers, and when it’s time to go to the ER.

What is an urgent care center?

An urgent care center is a medical facility staffed by doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners. They’re designed to fill in the gaps when you just can’t make it to your regular primary care doctor, or when you need care in a pinch.

Urgent care centers are best prepared to treat things like colds, flus, strains, and sprains. If it’s something you’d take a sick day for from work, you can likely get it checked out at an urgent care center. Most urgent care centers can also run diagnostic tests or do x-rays onsite. Here are some of the most common reasons people use urgent care:

  • Cold/flu

  • Sprain or strain

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Shallow cut

What urgent care centers don’t have is lifesaving equipment or the capability to deal with trauma – and they don’t have your medical history. So if it’s a true emergency, go to the emergency room. And if you do choose urgent care, make sure you bring a list of your medications and allergies, and be prepared to tell the provider about any relevant medical history.

What are the benefits of urgent care for your employees?

For minor issues, urgent care can be much more convenient than a regular primary care provider’s office. Most urgent care centers are open on nights and weekends, and same-day appointments are usually available throughout the day – which can be a lifesaver for busy families.

You can point your employees towards urgent care as an after-hours alternative to the emergency room. In non-emergency situations, urgent care can save your employees significant money and time. The average visit to the ER will run you anywhere from $1200-2100, and takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes from the time you arrive to the time you walk out. In contrast, on average, an urgent care visit costs from $50-150 and takes 30 minutes.

Most urgent care centers take most forms of insurance, too. Just remember to tell your employees to check with the provider’s office and with their health plan so they’re informed.

When is the emergency room the right choice?

Urgent care centers can be a helpful alternative to the ER if it’s not a true emergency. But of course, there are times when you do need the ER. These aren’t the only reasons you’d want to go to an ER, but as a general guideline, symptoms like these mean you should go to the emergency room or dial 911:

  • Trauma

  • Chest pain

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Severe pain

  • Broken bones

  • Head/eye injuries

Urgent care can save you time and money over a traditional doctor’s visit or a trip to the ER. But trust your gut – if it’s a true emergency, or you need to see your regular doctor, skip the urgent care center. Most importantly, be prepared. Have your employees make a plan so they know before someone gets sick where their nearest emergency room and urgent care center are. That way, they can make the right choice when the time comes.


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