ER vs Urgent Care Centers: Which One Should You Go To?

Many medical needs are unavoidable, but with the rise of urgent care clinics nationwide, you can avoid those costly bills and long waits in emergency rooms.

Business Insider published an article in May titled “Doctors Think Emergency Room Visits Are Going To Explode Under Obamacare,” which talks about the increase in emergency room visits.

The article includes information about a survey the American College of Emergency Physicians conducted from April 4 to April 2014 that “found that since Jan. 1 — the day [health care] coverage went into effect for millions of Americans — 46 percent of emergency physicians have experienced jumps in patients.”

The Affordable Care Act was supposed to reduce ER visits, but as doctors said they were expecting, the survey shows it has increased.

It is estimated that 13.7–27.1 percent of all emergency room visits could be taken care of at urgent care clinics, “with a potential cost savings of approximately $4.4 billion annually,” according to the Health Affairs journal article “Many Emergency Department Visits Could Be Managed At Urgent Care Centers And Retail Clinics” by Robin M. Weinick, Rachel M. Burns, and Ateev Mehrotra.

Data in the 2007 Emergency Department Summary released by the Centers for Disease Control showed that 45.5 percent of patients in emergency rooms had a procedure, “the majority of which were common procedures such as administration of IV fluids, splinting or wrapping, repair of a laceration or a nebulizer treatment.”

The biggest difference between ERs and urgent care centers is that the cost of ER visits can be tripled and the waiting time can be as long as four hours, according to Ashwaq Saad, Public Relation Coordinator of Express Healthcare, LLC.

Jwan Rkhzay Jaf, Manager of Express Healthcare, LLC, said figuring out whether to go to an ER or an urgent care center depends on what the medical problem is, such as being unconscious, bleeding profusely, in extreme pain or having an obvious deformity.

Jaf described urgent care centers as an in-between for primary care and ERs.

“It’s the intermediate gray ground in between absolute emergency and between you're in pain and you cannot wait to get an appointment. For those cases where it’s uncomfortable for the patient to wait for an appointment but it’s not serious enough to be seen in the ER. There’s a physiological factor as well. You start to think, ‘Is my situation really not that urgent so that no one’s taking care of me?’” when you’re in the ER. It is urgent, it’s just a little bit less than fatal, but it’s an immediate action to your discomfort.”

With people realizing that urgent care centers are a better option for their immediate, non-life-threatening healthcare needs, the number of centers increased from 8,000 to an estimated 9,3000 since 2008, according to the American Academy of Urgent Care Medicine.

Jaf said sales representatives of pharmaceutical companies were telling her the other day, “What a brilliant step it was to open an urgent care in this location because they noticed all urgent cares right now are doing very well. I’ve had many comments like that. Anyone that’s opened an urgent care, they’re booming.”

Express Healthcare, LLC, are urgent care centers in Prince George’s County in Maryland which treat “non-life threatening acute injuries and minor illnesses for patients of all ages,” according to their website. It is open every day of the year and does not require an appointment to be seen.

There are two locations, one in Berwyn Heights and the other in College Park behind the College Park Volunteer Fire Department on Baltimore Ave, which opened in May.

The University Health Center on campus often requires students to make appointments at least a day in advance due to the high volume of patients, and if students need to be seen the same day, they must put their name on a waitlist and sit in the waiting room in hopes of having their name called. The health center is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday and is closed on Sundays.

With no nighttime weekday hours and hardly any weekend hours, it can be difficult for students to get the medical help they need.

The College Park Express Healthcare, LLC location is 0.7 miles away from campus, making it a two-minute drive or a five-minute walk for University of Maryland students.

“It is very easy for college students to get sick, especially during season changes, so having an urgent health care near the university is helpful when the health center is closed evenings and weekends,” Saad said.