Urgent care vs Emergency room

Urgent care vs emergency room


Urgent care vs emergency room

What to do if you fall sick or injure yourself? but your regular doctor is not available and you can’t wait for an appointment? Urgent care vs emergency room is a question a lot of the people ask and probably you have often wondered too. It can be tricky deciding between the two as both the terms imply prompt medical treatment is required. 

The answer is quite simple. Urgent care centers, as the name suggests, can treat a variety of medical problems that need to be treated quickly but aren’t fatal emergencies. For example, cold, flu, minor fever,  sprains, strains or broken bones (hand, wrist-ankle), nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, allergic reactions, eye infections, painful urination, minor cuts requiring stitches are things that can be treated in an urgent care center. Urgent care centers are equipped with X-ray machines, basic lab testing and equipment for minor procedures such as splinting a broken bone, stitching a wound, or draining an abscess. But, if your condition requires more intensive care, heading to an emergency room would be the right decision.

Urgent care vs emergency room – Differences

Urgent careEmergency room
Treatment of less critical conditions possibleTreatment of both less critical and highly critical conditions possible
X-ray machines and basic medical equipment availableAdvanced medical equipment like MRI machines and CT scanners available
A couple of doctors and a few nurses are enough as medical staffA large medical team with specialists is always on board as medical staff
Have fixed timings e.g. 8 am – 10 pmFunction 24/7
Cheaper cost of medical careExpensive cost of medical care
First-come, first-serve basisPriority-based on severity
Lesser wait time to be treatedLonger wait time for less critical cases

Although Emergency rooms are well capable of treating everything an urgent care center can treat, they are designated to serve more complex cases like life or limb-threatening conditions. Coughing or vomiting blood, strokes, heart attack symptoms, severe or continuous bleeding, serious head or eye injuries, concussions, severe abdominal pain, difficulty in breathing, babies needing immediate care, or drug overdose/poisoning are some of the issues you go to the emergency room for. For that, ERs are well equipped with advanced and a wide range medical equipment and procedures including radiology labs, ultrasounds, CAT scans and MRIs, operating rooms and access to specialists of varying expertise across medical disciplines. Unlike urgent care centers that don’t operate late at night, emergency centers are capable of providing medical assistance throughout the whole day and night. Beds are also present in ERs in case a patient needs to be admitted.


That being said, patients in the emergency room are treated on severity condition. So, patients with more life-threatening conditions will be treated before patients with less serious conditions. This, in turn, means that patients with less critical problems may have to wait for hours before they can be treated.  On the other hand, urgent care centres work on a first-come. First-serve basis and due to lower acuity, or sickness, of the patients, many of them can be treated quicker.

Lastly, since most urgent care centres are sparsely staffed and don’t have as much advanced equipment as an emergency room, the cost to provide medical assistance is lower. Many insurance companies will require a lower copayment for evaluation. Even though the emergency rooms are capable of treating minor injuries or sickness along with the life-threatening ones. Lesser wait time and lower cost are why patients with less crucial conditions will prefer visiting an urgent care centre.

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