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Tip #2 Employees Ask – How do I choose between the ER and Urgent Care?

Tip #2 Employees Ask – How do I choose between the ER and Urgent Care?

February 21, 2020

Enrolling in a medical plan is one thing. Understanding your plan is another. Educating your employees to become smarter about their healthcare can translate into healthier employees and cost savings.

Another common area of confusion involves employees choosing between the Emergency Room (ER) and the local Urgent Care. Here is a common employee scenario:

From wobbly ladders, dull kitchen knives, to our kids sports teams, most of us will find ourselves in a mishap that creates a medical emergency requiring instant help and care. When the unexpected happens, it’s important to know whether to choose the ER or an urgent care center. If your are wondering what the differences are between the two, you are not alone.

Both will allow you to walk in without an appointment. Both can address health problems within hours, or even minutes. However, going to the ER versus going to urgent care can make a big difference when it comes to getting the most out of your insurance plan. After all, even though emergency rooms and urgent care centers have some similarities, they do not have the same pricing schedules or wait times. To understand why, let’s start off with some basic definitions.


  • Emergency Room: Usually an attached department of a hospital, the emergency room is designed to treat walk-in visitors with life-threatening conditions, trauma, severe injuries, and sudden serious illnesses.
  • Urgent Care: An urgent care center also takes walk-in visitors and can treat many of the same illnesses, injuries, and health problems as an ER. However, it has a limited ability to treat certain conditions and is better for minor health issues – not life-threatening healthcare situations or conditions that may require an operation or more complex diagnostic tests like an MRI or CAT scan.
  • Walk-In Clinics: Often found within or near local retailers and pharmacies, these clinics are best suited for handling minor conditions such as colds, flu, minor cuts, immunizations, or health screenings.


Knowing the difference between each of these terms can have a real impact on your wallet and your experience of receiving care. While an ER could treat any of the urgent care issues, it is must be noted that emergency rooms are busier and more expensive. The average ER costs $1,500 to $1,900 per visit while the average urgent care visit costs patients $50-$125 for basic care, with additional costs added for things like shots, x-rays (if available) and labs.

On the flip side, it is important to note that urgent care centers may not be able to treat the serious illnesses or conditions reserved for emergency rooms. That said, of the top diagnosis at both urgent care centers and ER’s, nearly 50% of them are the same. Both emergency rooms and urgent care centers are staffed with compassionate health care providers and in most cases both facilities will have doctors and nurses available. Both ER and urgent care centers are able to give patients shots, medications, IV’s and even treatment plans. Also, many urgent care centers offer x-rays, just like emergency rooms.


In the end, save ER visits for critical health trauma or accidents, such as heart attacks or chest pain, strokes, difficulty breathing, uncontrollable bleeding, severe pain or fever, loss of consciousness, and other dangerous life-threatening illnesses. Emergency rooms are prepared to respond to almost any serious emergency and have the needed equipment, for instance, radiology labs, CAT scanners, MRI’s and operating rooms. While urgent care centers have some medical equipment, they simply are not equipped like an emergency room for severe medical needs.

If you need minor health services, opt for the urgent care. Not only will you reduce your bill, you will usually spend much less time. Urgent care centers are ideal for non-critical stitches, non-life threatening x-rays, allergy, cold, and flu treatment and preventive care.


The first step toward saving is preparing. Proactively research the best in-network urgent care centers and ER’s for your local area by calling your health plan’s customer service center upfront before the need for healthcare, whether serious or minor, arises. For urgent care centers, pay attention to the stated hours. While some urgent care centers are open 24/7, others close at night or have limited “after-hour” times. If you are travelling, find a list of medical centers, ER or urgent care centers, along your route that accept your insurance.


Having your employees understand their health plan is important so that they truly value the benefit and can feel confident they are getting the most out of their plan. The experienced team at MY-Employee Benefits Plus is here to help. We work with our clients to put in place effective and repeatable employee benefit plan education. Let’s start a conversation that will lead your employees to know, like, understand and ultimately have positive, valued experience with their employee benefits.