E.R. and Urgent Care: What’s the Difference?

March 28, 2019 by Lee Group
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No one ever plans for a medical emergency to happen, but when it does, you want to be as prepared as possible. You need to know where to seek medical attention, especially those of us that are parents to small children or guardians of the elderly. Having an “idea” versus knowing where to seek the best medical care for emergency situations can make a huge difference in the timeliness and quality of the assistance you receive.

From the outside, a freestanding emergency room and urgent care clinic might appear to be very similar, but through the doors and under the surface there is a lot of vital information that separates the two facilities that a patient should be aware of. In general, a free-standing emergency room compared to an urgent care clinic offers completely different medical services. The first and most basic distinction between the two is a free-standing emergency room will be open 24 hours a day, where an urgent care clinic is only operating within regular business hours.

The most crucial difference between the two types of facilities is dependent on the care a patient seeks. Although both types of establishments market to “immediate” medical attention seekers, if choosing the wrong type of medical aid, help can be delayed for quite some time due to redirection or relocation. It is essential for patients to be able to distinguish between a real medical emergency and symptoms considered urgent. Free-standing emergency rooms are considered best for symptoms that are abnormal or extreme, like broken bones or severe cuts, whereas urgent care is made for handling symptoms that are more run-of-the-mill – experiencing flu-like symptoms, a fever, or a stomach bug. It is also important to note that when you come to an emergency room, you will normally be treated by a board-certified physician. While urgent care centers can be staffed by physicians, more often than not you will be seen by a physician assistant (PA) or nurse practitioner (NP).

Because freestanding emergency rooms are privately owned, they will typically house more advanced medical facilities/equipment and staff trained in various different medical fields. This means that at a free-standing emergency room, not only are you often able to receive an overnight observation but also be given fluids and full serviced lab testing, compared to urgent care counterparts, which are typically hospital-owned facilities only able to give basic care and prescriptions.

As far as price and acceptance of medical insurance goes, because both offer standard services, typically both establishments accept very similar forms of health insurance and payment options. The difference you will find here is all dependent on the facility. We always recommend conducting prior research on insurance acceptance before seeking treatment in order to avoid receiving services that won’t be covered. We hope that this information is helpful to our patients so that the next time you need medical assistance, you will be fully prepped and educated on the best type of facility for their situation.

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