On Sunday afternoon, your cold seems worse, you have a headache and are vomiting with a fever.  Do you head to the emergency room (ER), urgent care or call your doctor in the morning?  

This dilemma is common and can be costly. In fact, the cost difference can be well over $2,000 in some cases. Even if insured, your deductible/co-pay is usually higher for ER than urgent care.  Keep in mind, a minor illness or injury can generally wait until your doctor’s office opens in the morning. Urgent care is the “middle ground” between your doctor and the ER for issues that just can’t wait until tomorrow, or if you have other health conditions such as diabetes, heart failure or asthma. Remember, even if you visit the ER for a non-emergency condition, you will be charged emergency room rates for all care and treatment provided. Also, if the physician at urgent care thinks you need emergent care, they will get you to the ER. However, don’t ignore an emergency; if your condition seems life-threatening, call 911.

Below are important differences to consider:

Urgent CareEmergency Room
Non-life-threatening injury or illnessImmediate treatment of critical, life-threatening injuries or illness
Avg. cost: $180Avg. cost: $2,200
Avg. wait: 30 min or lessAvg. wait: 2 hours or more
Staff: typically nurse practitioners (NP), physician assistants (PA), nurses and some have physiciansStaff: physicians, NP/PAs, quick access to specialists (cardiology, neurology, orthopedics, etc.)
Services: basic labs, x-rayServices: labs, x-ray/CT scans (do not expect a non-urgent MRI), other resources for severe situations
Some types of conditions treated:
• Sprains or joint pain
• Earache
• Diarrhea/vomiting
• Urinary tract infections
• Minor cuts/burns
• Bronchitis/upper respiratory infections
• Skin rashes
• Asthma nebulizer treatment
• Mild cough, aches/pains, temperature below 100 degrees
• Back or muscle pain
Some types of conditions treated:
• Chest pain/pressure
• Head injury
• Seizures
• Sudden, severe headache
• Sudden paralysis or weakness
• Uncontrolled bleeding
• Fracture with bone through skin
• Severe allergic reaction (swelling lips, difficulty swallowing or breathing)
• Loss of consciousness

Always call 911 if you have signs of a heart attack (chest pressure, pain or fullness in the center of chest that spreads to the shoulders, neck or arms for more than a few minutes; lightheaded, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath) or stroke symptoms remembered as BE FAST and call 911 immediately.

Dr. Porter is a doctorate-prepared nurse of 30 years and health care advocate dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of medical processes aiding patients, families and caregivers. She is CEO and founder of MyHealth.MyAdvocate in Palm Desert and can be reached at (760) 851.4116 or  www.myhealthmyadvocate.com.

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