Should I Go To Urgent Care Or The Emergency Room?

Mira Research Team25 Feb 2021

Quick Digest

  • When it comes to deciding if you should visit the emergency room or urgent care, your decisions should largely depend on the symptoms and situation you are facing.
  • If you are in an emergency situation, you should visit an emergency room. If you are not experiencing an urgent medical situation and the hours are between 8 AM and 5 PM, you may want to consider visiting an urgent care center instead.
  • In addition, urgent care visits are typically more affordable than an emergency room visit, especially if you are uninsured. You may also have shorter wait times at urgent care facilities.

Visiting the Emergency Room vs. Urgent Care

When to visit an urgent care center

You should always consult with your doctor regarding your medical situation. If your symptoms are severe or you are experiencing a medical emergency, you should call 911 and go to an emergency room. 

However, if you are experiencing manageable symptoms or need routine tests, going to urgent care may be a better option for you. 

While all of the following services can be provided at an emergency room or even your primary care physician, it may be more convenient and cost-effective to visit an urgent care center for your medical care. 

You may want to consider visiting an urgent care center for any of the following reasons:

  • Minor fractures
  • X-rays
  • Back pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Minor headaches
  • Blood work
  • Bumps, cuts, and scrapes
  • Fever- However, the ER may be more appropriate for infants and toddlers
  • Ear or sinus pain
  • Vaccinations
  • Cough or sore throat
  • Lab services
  • Animal bites
  • Stitches
  • Sprains and strains
  • Mild asthma
  • Foreign objects in the eyes or nose
  • Allergies
  • Rashes and minor burns
  • Burning with urination
  • Eye irritation, swelling, or pain
  • Minor allergic reactions
  • Cold or flu symptoms

When to visit the emergency room

You should go to an emergency room if you are experiencing an emergency situation. If you have a life-threatening condition, go straight to your nearest ER or call 911 immediately. Such conditions include:

  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack symptoms
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Stroke
  • Head trauma
  • Severe bleeding
  • Loss of vision

Cost comparison- Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room

The average urgent care visit costs patients $71-$125 for basic care. Patients may incur additional costs for shots, x-rays, and labs. The average emergency room visit costs $1,318.

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The cost for both an urgent care or emergency room visit will largely depend on the following factors:

  • Medications you received during your visit
  • Injections or IVs
  • Tests and x-rays
  • Level of care needed
  • Casts for broken bones

How much does an urgent care visit cost vs. an emergency room visit?

In general, going to urgent care is significantly less expensive when compared to the emergency room. Here’s a breakdown of out-of-pocket pricing when it comes to certain services you may receive during a visit:

*Please note prices will vary depending on insurance coverage, medications, locations, and severity of the situation.

ServiceUrgent Care CostEmergency Room Cost
Minor fracture$180 to $240$1,000+
STD testing$216 to $360$150 to $360 per test
Sprains$180 to $240$1,000+
Vaccinations$40 to $70Depends on the vaccine
Stitches$150 to $350$500
Blood work$250+$1,500
X-rays$200+$100 to $1,100

Average Wait Times- Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room

Along with urgent care center visits being less expensive than emergency room visits, you are also likely to be seen and treated by a doctor a lot faster when compared to the emergency room.

The average emergency room has a wait time of 2.4 hours, whereas urgent care centers are able to see walk-in patients within 15-45 minutes.

The wait time, however, does not include the time patients spend waiting for services while in the doctor's office. 

In most cases, an urgent care center helps patients through the system much faster, as the care is more limited and specific.

Avoiding surprise fees when visiting an urgent care center or emergency room

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Understanding what might appear on your bill and advocating for yourself during the billing process is essential to saving money. Outlined below are several questions you can ask the team at the urgent care clinic or emergency room that might help you save money.

  • How much is the total out-of-pocket cost?
  • How much are the services I’m receiving today?
  • How much is the treatment I’m receiving?
  • Are there administrative fees or fees for seeing a provider?
  • Is one type of medicine cheaper than another?
  • Is one type of diagnostic test cheaper than another?
  • What are my alternatives?

What if I can’t afford an urgent care or emergency room visit?

If you are unable to afford a visit to an urgent care center or emergency room, Mira could be the best option for you.

With Mira, your $99 co-pay will cover your entire urgent care visit. For just $45 a month, you can visit any of the urgent care clinics in-network and get access to affordable lab tests, 80% off prescriptions, and more!