Are Urgent Care Centers Considered Emergency Rooms?

Are Urgent Care Centers Considered Emergency Rooms?

All too often injuries and ailments appear out of the blue. You stumble on your way down the stairs while headed to work, you wake up in the middle of the night with intense back pains or your baby spikes a high fever on the weekend. So unexpected right? When the above occurs, we are often confused about where to rush for care especially if your regular doctor is unavailable or a far distance away, and the symptoms seem unbearable.

Recognizing the differences between emergency and urgency has been a tough call for many since the two are synonyms equating for the same purpose; little known to many. Both terms imply that there is a medical condition that requires immediate attention. However, there are distinct differences that ensure that an urgent care center is not an emergency room. Let’s clear the air.

Urgent care centers have evolved in the 1990’s serving Americans who have no access to primary care doctors during an emergency perhaps during weekends, nights or even when their doctors are unavailable. They are a valid bridge between emergency room services and your primary physician.

There are no appointment requirements and they are usually open all seven days of the week late until perhaps 9.00 p.m. The centers provide all the services your primary physician may provide or even the emergency room. Emergency departments, on the other hand, operate day and night 24/7 to cater for immediate medical attention to the critical and complex life-threatening cases. This does not exclude the emergency departments from providing services to the less complex cases since the federal law requires that they provide care to all patients regardless of the simplicity of the medical condition.

While the emergency rooms have the sophisticated medical equipment and highly rated expertise mainly to handle the life-threatening cases, urgent care centers come in short of the complex details. They do have x-ray machines, lab testing and other equipment necessary for handling medical conditions ranging from blood sugar tests or flu shots to more sophisticated issues like casting broken bones.

Still confused on why the urgent care centers are not emergency room? Let us break down the functions that will help you decide on whether to check into an emergency room or an urgency care center. So when in a dilemma on where to rush yourself or a patient, ask yourself “why I’m I going?” if the answer is “because I feel like these symptoms are threatening my life” then the emergency center is the place to rush. Call 911 if you can’t take yourself there on time. Conditions that may endanger or impair your life include, severe chest pains, difficulty breathing, persistence bleeding, vaginal bleeding with a pregnancy, ingestion of poisonous or toxic substances, complex bone fractures, deep cuts or unconsciousness among other fatal symptoms. With this kind of symptoms, you will be attended to immediately at an emergency room even ahead of other patients as it is common conscience to treat a heart attack ahead of the flu.

Urgent care centers handle issues that are not necessarily considered true emergencies. Symptoms that can easily be handled at an urgent care center include a fever without a rash, flu, diarrhea, sore throat, a small cut that requires a few stitches or vomiting.

If you have been having a persistent or recurring medical problem, the best place to go is to your primary medical health provider owing to the fact that they have your previous medical records and a follow up could be an easy task. Urgent centers do not have a track record of one’s previous records; hence we cannot substitute an urgent care center with a personal doctor.     

Although cost differences between emergency rooms and urgent care centers have a huge difference, patients should not take severe conditions to urgent care centers with the intention of paying less. The average urgent care visit ranges from $50 to $150 depending on the level of treatment and a patient’s co-pay. An emergency room treatment will have you digging up to $2200 from a median cost of $1200; this is due to the complexity of diagnosis and treatment procedures.

Then we have to consider the time factor. Patients at urgent care centers are attended to on a first come first serve basis with an average waiting time of about 30 minutes. Emergency rooms attend to conditions depending on the level of severity. Patients that come in with life-threatening conditions are attended to first. This leaves the typical patient waiting for about 3 hours before being attended to. For this reason, one should carefully make the right decision to avoid unnecessary costs and wastage of time.

With the above analysis, we can conclude and ideally draw a line between an emergency room and an urgent care center. Your instincts will help you make the right decision when settling for best motive. To answer the question, urgent care centers are not emergency rooms.


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