It used to be a lot easier to get an appointment with your physician. You didn’t feel well, you called the doctor and got seen. If it was bad enough, you went to the ER, filled out a bunch of paperwork and then got seen. Something happened not so many years ago that made things a bit more complex. Insurance got expensive, funding was cut and emergency room services became harder to come by. ER doctors didn’t want to see people for cases of the flu. They wanted to focus on genuine life-threatening emergencies. That’s when urgent care and walk-in clinics came on the scene. Many people are still confused about the difference and can’t decide when one should visit a walk-in and when one should go to the emergency room. Here’s an overview of the difference between a 24-hour urgent care clinic and the ER.
In the past, the emergency room was your only option to get treatment for any ailment when your doctor wasn’t available to see you. This tended to cause long waits and prioritization of visits to the ER. Doctors wanted to make sure those with genuine emergencies were seen first and everyone else got a lower priority. At the very least this could lead to long waits and a great deal of discomfort for those bumped to the bottom of the lists. In addition, visiting the emergency room could get very expensive, especially for those who didn’t have insurance. The problem only worsened as insurance got more expensive and hospitals found themselves fighting for financial survival amid funding problems.
Urgent Care Clinics
Urgent care clinics represent a more affordable alternative for those who don’t have insurance, have expensive insurance, or who don’t have immediate medical emergencies but still need to get treated in the absence of their doctor. Millions of people visit urgent care clinics every year, and while it’s added an extra level to our health care system, for many it has become an important resource.
As data shows, urgent care clinics are much cheaper. Urgent care clinics provide a high level of health care at a much lower cost than hospitals due to the lower overhead involved. Many urgent care clinics can operate right out of drug stores and even those with their own locations don’t have to deal with the level of bills that hospitals do. This enables them to keep their costs down—as much as 25 percent or lower compared to ER visits.
In fact, even for those with good insurance, it can be beneficial to do the walk-in clinic first. Many insurance companies offer discounted copay rates for people who visit urgent care centers over ER trips. This is especially true for those who have to pay coinsurance rather than a co-payment. With coinsurance, you generally pay a percentage of the total costs of your visit. Where an ER trip can cost $5,000, a walk-in clinic might only cost $500 for similar services. If you have a 20 percent coinsurance pay, that’s a huge difference. You end up paying $1,000 for that ER trip, while the walk-in will cost you only $100.
When Should I Visit the ER?
The presence of these walk-in facilities has led many people to wonder when the appropriate time is to visit the ER? The truth is, for many symptoms you are better off taking a trip to a walk-in. The following common medical problems are just some of those best served at a clinic rather than a hospital and a few may even surprise you:
- Strep throat and other sore throat issues
- Sprains and strains
- Animal and insect bites and stings
- Cold, flu and upper respiratory symptoms
- Broken bones
- Cuts, bruises, scrapes, and other less severe injuries
Of course, there are extreme cases where any of the above can be immediately life-threatening, and then you should go to the hospital. A food allergy or bug bite that results in immediate danger to your life through anaphylaxis, for example, should be treated as a real emergency.
Other Benefits of 24-hour Urgent Care NYC
Visiting an urgent care facility carries other benefits beyond being less expensive. They are often much easier to get into than making an appointment with your doctor and your visit can be much faster, involve less waiting, and still deliver a high degree of care. Many people are turning to these walk-in clinics in this day and age for such things as flu shots and other immunizations, general health and wellness advice, chronic problems like asthma or diabetes, and even for general annual physical exams.