Is It Urgent or An Emergency?

Emergency Rooms and Urgent Care facilities are designed to meet very different needs. Many employees aren’t aware that there are significant differences between the two, not the least of which is the cost.  For employers, it’s of benefit to make sure they understand the differences. Non-emergency visits for non life-threatening visits to the Emergency Room, can affect your health claims – potentially impacting your health plan rates at your next renewal.  Below is an overview of the distinctions when medical services are needed.

Urgent Care Facilities

Urgent Care facilities are designed to treat those with mild or moderate ailments that may include:

  • Fevers
  • Sore throats
  • Abdominal pains
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Colds, coughs and the flu
  • Scrapes, minor cuts and bruises
  • Eye and ear infections
  • Minor eye injuries
  • Sinus infections

Emergency Rooms

Emergency Rooms are designed to treat serious and life threatening illnesses and injuries such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Head, neck or back injuries
  • Loss of vision, slurred speech, numbness
  • Heavy, uncontrollable bleeding
  • Coughing or vomiting blood
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • High fever in infants
  • Broker bones
  • Poisoning

Often employees will go to an Emergency Room when services are needed at night or on a weekend when their doctor’s office is closed.  Emergency Rooms may be open 24/7, but Urgent Care facilities are open 7 days a week, with expanded hours to meet the need of non-emergency services.

Aside from the differences in the kinds of illnesses and injuries for which ERs and Urgent Care facilities provide care, there are differences in cost. Many employer health plans require a higher payment for Emergency Room visits to dissuade the use of the emergency room for services that are deemed non-emergency.  And, wait times in an Emergency Room can be hours long if the reason for your visit is not high-priority or life threatening. The cost of an Urgent Care Facility is typically the cost of the co-pay noted in your health plan.

Clearly, in a life-threatening emergency, call 911 immediately. But when when needing non-emergency care,  it’s important to make informed choices up front to avoid surprises later.