Do You Need Urgent Care or Emergency Care? What’s The Difference?

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – With more Americans having insurance through the Affordable Care Act, access to healthcare has never been greater. However, with rising healthcare costs and more of that cost placed on consumers, patients are demanding new ways to receive lower cost, quality healthcare.

Almost every street corner has some type of urgent care center. No matter the name – Urgent Care, Walk-in Care, Immediate Care, or Convenient Care – the focus is on treating patients quickly, affordably and in convenient locations. Baptist Health has partnered with Urgent Team to open two Baptist Health Urgent Care centers – one in North Little Rock and the other in Bryant.

“It’s so important when you’re injured or hurt and in need of medical attention, to know whether to head to the Emergency Room (ER), your primary care provider, or an urgent care center,” said Chad Sherwood, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Urgent Team. “It can often make a difference in immediate relief, cost, and possibly, life or death.”

Emergency Room (ER) Care

If a patient shows symptoms of a life-threatening condition such as chest pain with difficulty breathing, stroke, or is unconscious or unresponsive, call 9-1-1 and let an ambulance take him or her to the emergency room. Ambulance staff can begin treating a patient in the ambulance.

Common reasons to go to an ER include acute or serious conditions such as: chest pain and heart attack; stroke; severe abdominal pain; loss of balance;severe wheezing or shortness of breath; paralysis; seizure; head injury; intestinal bleeding;vaginal bleeding with pregnancy; serious burns; major broken bones; major injury or trauma; uncontrolled vomiting; poisoning; severe head or eye injuries; altered mental status, confusion or unconsciousness; as well as other traumatic illness and injuries.

Urgent Care

When health issues unexpectedly occur that need immediate attention, but aren’t life-threatening, many people are turning to urgent care centers. These centers have become a bridge between the patient’s primary care doctor’s office and the hospital emergency room.

Urgent Care centers treat patients who have an acute injury or illness that requires immediate care, but is not serious enough to warrant a trip to an ER or you’re your primary care doctor is unavailable. The rule of thumb is if the condition is not life threatening, but treatment is needed today and you can’t get in to see your doctor, an urgent care center can treat these conditions and illnesses.

Acute ailments or injuries include: fevers, flu or cold symptoms; ear infections; animal or insect bites; seasonal allergies; bronchitis and respiratory illness; eye and ear conditions; sinusitis; urinary tract infections; sprains and minor broken bones; cuts and bleeding that may require stitches; vomiting and diarrhea;abdominal pain; minor back pain; and other common illnesses and injuries. These centers also offer onsite imaging and diagnostic lab tests, school and sports physicals, and immunizations.

“The distinguishing factors of urgent care are that medical care is delivered on a walk-in basis, with no appointment needed, and most are open 7 days a week with evening and weekend hours, making it convenient for families,” Sherwood explained. “Urgent care centers offer peace of mind for patients when they know they have access to quality medical care when their doctor’s office may not be open.”

“While urgent care centers can serve as an important link between the ER and primary care doctors when an unexpected healthcare need arises, it should not be considered a replacement for ongoing primary care, nor a substitute for emergency care, which is the best option for emergency situations.” These centers can also free up Emergency Rooms from cases that are not life-threatening so ER staff can focus on patients who truly need immediate, life-saving care.

Cost of Care and Wait Times

For non-life-threatening health needs when you can’t get in to see your primary care doctor, urgent care centers can offer a more cost-effective alternative.

ERs are equipped to treat life-treating circumstances, but the high cost of using a facility designed for that level of medical care will more than likely be reflected in the bill. ER costs vary based on treatment, but a 2013 National Institute of Health study put the median cost at $1,233. According to the Urgent Care Association of American (UCAOA), the average cost of an urgent care visit is $150.

For example, the 2015 UCAOA Benchmarking Study says the average cost for a visit for a urinary tract infection at an urgent care center is $108, while the same visit to an ER averages $940.

According to that same survey, the average wait time at an urgent care center is 45 minutes, while an average wait time at the ER is 4 hours. “Here again, when an immediate health issue arises, all the more reason consumers must consider the urgency of their condition so that the right conditions are treated in the right setting,” Sherwood emphasized.

About Urgent Team

Urgent Team is one of the largest independent operators of urgent and family care centers in the Southeast. The Urgent Team family of centers delivers quality and affordable family healthcare at 21 locations: Sherwood Urgent Care (seven centers throughout Arkansas); Baptist Health Urgent Care (two centers in Arkansas); and Urgent Team(12 centers throughout Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee).

About Baptist Health

With more than 175 points of access, including eight hospitals, Baptist Health is the state’s most comprehensive healthcare system committed to delivering “All Our Best” to Arkansans. To learn more about Baptist Health, call Baptist Health HealthLine at 1-888-BAPTIST.