What is Urgent Care?

In moments of health-related uncertainty, knowing where to turn for immediate care can be crucial. Urgent care centers and emergency rooms both play vital roles in our healthcare system. Urgent care medicine focuses on offering immediate medical assistance and outpatient care for injuries, ongoing health conditions, and sudden illnesses. Often referred to as “medicine’s frontline”, those specializing in urgent care need to be experienced and proficient in caring for and evaluating every patient who appears in urgent care clinics or emergency rooms.

All patients should know that urgent care isn’t a substitute for having a primary care physician. That said, visiting an urgent care center or emergency room can be a convenient option in cases when your usual doctor is unavailable, or in case of an emergency outside of your primary physician’s office hours.

If a patient presents to an urgent care center and requires advanced diagnostic testing or specialized care, the urgent care medicine specialist will transfer them to a hospital emergency department for further evaluation and treatment. Emergency medicine entails comprehensive care for critically ill patients and provides prolonged observation when necessary. Patients will be seen by individuals trained to handle life-threatening emergencies and provide definitive care for patients in critical condition.

By understanding the differences between urgent care medicine and emergency medicine, patients can make informed decisions about seeking the most appropriate level of care based on the urgency and severity of their medical needs.

Urgent Care Clinics Vs. Emergency Rooms

Urgent Care Clinics

Urgent care clinics serve as ideal facilities for addressing non-life-threatening conditions that necessitate timely attention, including minor injuries, fever, flu symptoms, nausea, conjunctivitis, diarrhea, rashes, ear infections, minor allergic reactions, migraines, minor cuts, strains or sprains, and minor infections. Opting for urgent care proves convenient when your primary care physician is unavailable, particularly outside of regular office hours or when their schedule is fully booked. In terms of cost-effectiveness, urgent care clinics present a more economical option for less severe conditions, often entailing lower copays and fees in comparison to emergency room visits. Moreover, individuals can expect expedited service, with shorter wait times commonly observed in urgent care settings as opposed to emergency rooms.

Some of the urgencies that can be treated at urgent care clinics may be:

  • Back pain
  • Mild Allergic Reactions
  • Pneumonia
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Rashes
  • Diarrhea
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Fever
  • Sinusitis
  • Ear Infections
  • Strains and Sprains
  • Migraines
  • Insect Bites
  • Small Wounds

Emergency Room

In situations where symptoms suggest a potentially life-threatening condition, such as chest pain, breathing difficulties, severe injuries or infections, immediate action is crucial—head directly to the emergency room. This facility is specially equipped to manage severe injuries, critical medical emergencies, loss of consciousness, and other pressing situations. Notably, emergency rooms operate around the clock, providing an essential option for obtaining urgent medical attention beyond regular office hours. Moreover, for individuals with chronic conditions experiencing a sudden deterioration in health, the specialized and comprehensive care available in emergency rooms ensures they receive the level of attention required for their specific circumstances.

Due to the nature of these symptoms, it is best to visit an emergency room for the following:

  • Chest Pain
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Uncontrolled Bleeding
  • Severe Allergic Reactions (Anaphylaxis)
  • Loss of Consciousness or Fainting
  • Stroke Symptoms: Sever headache, difficulty speaking, sudden numbness
  • Seizures
  • Severe Burns
  • Broken Bones and Dislocations
  • Severe Vomiting, Diarrhea, and Dehydration
  • Sever Abdominal Pain


Some available sources state that the typical urgent care visit will cost around $185, while the average emergency room visit will be somewhere between $1,500 and $2,600. However, this will vary depending on several factors including what procedures, tests and treatments are required. It’s important to note that these figures are general estimates and fluctuate based on individual circumstances, location, and the specific services provided. Insurance coverage plays a substantial role in mitigating these costs, with many policies offering different levels of coverage for urgent care versus emergency room visits. Consult with your healthcare provider or insurance representative for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding potential expenses.

In summary, urgent care clinics are best for less serious illnesses that require prompt attention, especially when your primary care physician is unavailable. They’re cost-effective and offer quicker service. On the other hand, emergency rooms are for life-threatening situations, severe injuries, and critical medical emergencies, for 24/7 specialized care. It’s essential to assess the severity of your condition and choose accordingly to ensure you receive the most appropriate care. Remember, while your health is more important than expenses, it’s advisable to visit emergency rooms in cases when you’re faced with life-threatening conditions.