Our ability to make balanced and rational decisions is not at its best when we are sick, injured or in acute pain. At such moments, our main focus is to restore balance and eliminate our agony. To that extent, we might make decisions that do not really cater to our personal (or financial) wellbeing.
When we are unwell and do not have the choice of seeing our primary care physician, we must decide whether to seek assistance in the ER or at an Urgent Care Center. Hence, it is wise to know when to use the Emergency Room and when to use Urgent Care centers. Both facilities are designed to alleviate medical conditions but do so at dramatically different costs and levels. Knowing where to go to treat what before a health crisis strikes is a wise strategy that will replenish your health more effectively and safeguard your finances from unnecessary charges.The definition of the word emergency might clue us in as to why the ER is so heavily overused. It is defined as “sudden crisis requiring action” and “needing immediate treatment”. Without a doubt, this is the mindset we find ourselves when stricken with a malady that upsets our daily routines and comfort level. While we may want to receive immediate care and attention, the truth is ER waits for non-traumatic injuries or illnesses can average up to four hours and have an average expense of $1,300 dollars per visit.
Perhaps, it is why Urgent Care centers are becoming more and more popular and widespread. These centers are more like small private clinics that are designed to treat minor/daily/common illnesses and injuries in a prompt and less comprehensive way; they are staffed by physicians, nurses and assistants that provide care for common injuries and illnesses in a quicker and more cost-effective way.
It makes sense, Emergency Rooms are designed and actually specialize in maximizing the chances of saving lives. They are required to be open 24 hours and have state of the art facilities. Whether you come in with pain in your ear or chest, a very thorough analysis of your current health situation will be performed. This might include but may not be limited to blood work, urine samples, ultrasounds, cat scans or anything else required to better understand the exact cause of the patient’s distress. If you are at the ER for a life-threatening emergency, all of this makes sense. Nevertheless, if you are there as a result of an ear infection, you may find it excessive in more ways than one. Misuse and overuse of the ER are, in fact, the main reasons for higher costs and rate increases for insurance premiums. Not to mention, an overbooking of the facilities that results in longer waits for patients with non-threatening cases.
According to the American College of Emergency Physicians you should visit an ER if any of the following signs are present:
- Chest or pain pressure
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Sudden or severe pain
- Coughing or vomiting blood
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Sudden dizziness, weakness, or changes in vision
- Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
- Changes in mental status, such as confusion
- Heavy bleeding
- Large open wounds
- Sudden change in vision
- Chest pain
- Sudden weakness
- Trouble breathing
- Major burns
- Spinal injuries
- Severe head injury
- Loss of consciousness
- Abdominal pain
On the other hand they recommend visiting an Urgent Care center for the following:
- Minor broken bones
- Mild asthma attacks
- Minor infections
- Small cuts
- Sore throats
- Minor burns
- Urinary tract infections
- Pelvic infections
A quick examination of the difference in cost between treatment in the ER or at an Urgent Care facility for minor illnesses will further point out why Urgent care facilities are more cost effective when you are not experiencing any life-threatening issues. For example, a case of acute bronchitis treated at the ER will average a total cost of $814 while the same illness with the same prescription will total $122 at the urgent care, treating acute pharyngitis at the ER will cost $620 while visiting a local urgent care will cost $93. If you have an ear infection, you will spend $498 to feel better at the ER, while the Urgent Care will only need $100 of your money to solve the issue.
Consequently, it pays and well, to know when to go to the Emergency Room. It also comes in handy to identify beforehand what Urgent Centers are near your home, work or children’s school. If you are insured, call your insurance company and ask them which centers are in the network. Having a plan previously established before a crisis strikes will not only give you peace of mind, but will allow you to act promptly and without doubt when all your energy is drained by discomfort and clouds your best judgment.