Thanks to increased healthcare costs, such as higher insurance premiums, deductibles, and prescription drug expenses, many Americans put off getting necessary medical care. And what about consumers who can’t afford health insurance? They are often forced to completely set aside preventative care such as childhood immunizations and screenings.
But putting off necessary medical care because of a lack of insurance negatively impacts a person’s heath.In fact, uninsured adults are more likely to die prematurely than adults who have insurance. Luckily, more urgent care centers have popped up across the country as an alternative to primary care or ER visits, which are both incredibly expensive, and not a real option for those who lack insurance.
What Are Urgent Care Clinics?
Urgent care clinics are an alternative option to primary care and emergency room services. They began to evolve in the 1990’s as an answer to many Americans’ complaints of not having access to their primary care doctors at nights or on weekends.
Urgent care centers, of which there are about 9,300 in the country, are typically open seven days a week until 9 PM or even later in some metropolitan areas. They are staffed primarily by family care and emergency room physicians and offer nearly all of the services offered in a traditional doctor’s office or ER.
While urgent care centers have x-ray machines, lab testing and most of the equipment needed for treating a wide array of illnesses, they do not have the sophisticated medical equipment and staff expertise found in ER rooms and are not meant to handle life-threatening conditions. Having said that, these centers can handle a majority of necessary medical treatments from flu shots, ear infections and setting broken bones.
Choosing Between Urgent Care and an Emergency Room Visit
For many years, uninsured people were forced to visit an emergency room for something as minor as a cut finger. With no other options, they wound up having a heart attack when they got the bill. Luckily there were already right there in the ER.
But now there is another option – urgent care clinics. Sadly, many people are still uninformed about this second choice and visit the ER when it is not warranted. Not only is this a more expensive choice for them, it is forcing ER staff to divert attention away from patients who do need emergency care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2012, there were 136 million visits to the emergency room. The American College of Emergency Physicians reports that 92% of emergency visits are typically from “very sick people who need care within 1 minute to 2 hours,” yet the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey estimates that one-third to one-half of all ER visits are for non-urgent care. And the New England Health Institute says 56% of ER visits are “totally avoidable. And studies have shown the top three reasons for ER visits are usually sprains and strains, upper respiratory infections, and superficial cuts. All of these can be treated efficiently and for less at an urgent care clinic.
So, when should you choose an emergency room over an urgent care clinic? When you have a life-threatening injury or symptoms. The problem is, there are some illnesses and symptoms that straddle the line, and regular people find it difficult to determine the severity, or lack thereof, of their medical issue.
While there is no definitive list of ailments, here are some of the most common reasons people should choose an emergency room over an urgent care center:
- Severe chest pain
- Severe abdominal pain
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Intestinal bleeding
- High fevers or rash, especially among children
- Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy
- Repeated vomiting
- Severe head or eye injuries
- Allergic reactions
What are some of the most common reasons people should choose an urgent care clinic?
- Fevers, flu or cold symptoms
- Ear infections
- Animal or insect bites
- Seasonal allergies
- Sprains and broken bones
- Cuts and bleeding that may require stitches
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Breathing discomfort, such as moderate asthma
- Urinary tract infections
- X-rays and lab tests
- Abdominal pain
- Minor back pain
What are the Costs Associated with Urgent Care?
There is a staggering difference between the cost of emergency room care and urgent care, and, if you’re uninsured, this can mean the difference between getting affordable out-of-pocket care vs going into debt. Consider that the average urgent care center visit costs between $50 to $150. Keep in mind that these prices will vary depending on where you live, and expenses can increase should there be the need for lab tests, x-rays, and casting of a broken bone.
A 2013 National Institute of Health study put the median cost of emergency room visits at $1,233, while other estimates push it to as high as $2,168.
Take a look at the estimated costs prepared by Medica Choice Network for some of the most common reasons people visit the ER as compared with costs of that same care in an urgent care facility:
|Condition||Emergency Room Cost||Urgent Care Cost|
|Upper Respiratory Infection||$486||$111|
|Urinary Tract Infection||$665||$112|
The data is clear: for those Americans who are uninsured and not in need of emergency care, urgent care centers make the most financial sense.
Urgent Way is committed to providing quality and affordable care to our neighbors. We understand that immediate access is important and are open 365 days a year.
With locations in Hempstead, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, Hicksville, and the Bronx, we are always there when you need us the most.
While we accept most insurance plans, including worker’s compensation, private insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare, we also welcome those without insurance and do our best to offer the most affordable rates and payment options.
Urgent Way truly believes that all members of our community deserve quality healthcare at a price they can comfortably afford. Feel free to stop into any one of our locations, or call and speak with one of our staff.