Emergency Room Versus Urgent Care: Cost Comparison

Americans use the emergency room over 100 million times each year, and over 40% of visits to the hospital each year entail a trip to the emergency room.  Urgent care began in the early 90s because many patients were frustrated with the fact they could not receive treatment from their primary physician during the night or on weekends.  Today, urgent care is a viable option for many of the circumstances that used to necessitate an emergency room visit.  The best advice is to follow your gut, intuition, or motherly instinct; whichever term you prefer.  Urgent care is best utilized for issues you would feel comfortable seeing your primary physician for, and if that is not the case, then the emergency room is necessary.  This article is not trying to vie for urgent care, or claim that one or the other is the better option.  They both exist because they fulfill different needs, but it is important to know what each of them offers in their own regard.  Below you can find a list of some of the most common reasons people frequent emergency rooms and urgent care centers, as well as see the cost analysis for these treatments.

Emergency Room Visits

  • Persistent chest pain, especially if it spreads to your arm or jaw, or sweating, vomiting and difficulty breathing occurs
  • Breathing becomes difficult
  • Severe pain, especially partaking in the abdomen or in the middle of the back
  • Unusual clumsiness, loss of balance, or fainting
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding others
  • Weakness or paralysis, especially if it affects one side of the face or the body
  • Heart palpitations that are abnormal or perpetual
  • Severe headache
  • Testicular pain or swelling
  • Falls or serious wounds especially if on blood thinning medications
  • Vision changes, blurred, double vision, and vision loss
  • Broken bones and dislocated joints
  • Cuts that require stitches or that the bleeding cannot be stopped
  • Head or eye injuries
  • Severe flu or cold
  • Fevers, especially with a rash
  • Persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Burns
  • Seizures, especially if previously undiagnosed

Urgent Care Centers

  • Fevers without a rash
  • Ear infections
  • Painful urination and urinary tract infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Common injuries such as sprains, shallow cuts, etc.
  • Fever, flu, or cold
  • Animal or insect bites
  • Allergies
  • Bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Certain lab tests and X-rays

Cost Analysis


Emergency Room Cost

Urgent Care Cost




Acute Bronchitis






Sore Throat



Pink Eye






Strep Throat



Upper Respiratory Infection



Urinary Tract Infection





Emergency rooms are constantly busy for a number of reasons; we will not get into the numbers of emergency visits that occur because many people do not have insurance.  The average wait time for urgent care is between 15 and 45 minutes, while the average emergency room visit will be closer to 2 hours.  Also, going off of the numbers above, urgent care can save you between 1/6 to 1/3 of the cost compared to emergency room visits.  Emergency rooms will always be necessary, but for certain circumstances, you can save money and time by using urgent care centers.  The worst case scenario is that the urgent care center admits you need more help than they can offer.


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