When to Go to an Urgent Care Center Instead of a Hospital ER

Maryland Health Connection always recommends choosing a primary care doctor to see for regular check ups and health care when you have an illness or injury. Doctors usually provide an on-call service after hours so you can have a medical professional call you back. When you need immediate health care, an urgent care center is more cost-effective than the local hospital’s emergency room or ER. Bet you didn’t know that 80% of visits to the emergency room can be treated at an urgent care facility.

We get it. Sometimes a visit to the urgent care center leads you to the ER anyway, because you may need a higher level of care. At least you’ll receive an assessment from a medical professional who can refer you to the ER for specific tests or call an ambulance if necessary. Although most urgent care centers are not open 24/7, many offer extended hours, so be sure to see what’s open if it’s late.

As a general rule, choose urgent care for non life-threatening injuries or illnesses such as:

  • ER vs urgent careFever
  • Ear pain
  • Painful urination
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Mild asthma
  • Minor burns
  • Rashes and other skin irritations
  • Animal bites
  • Dehydration
  • Lacerations
  • Infections
  • Simple fractures and sprains
  • Nose bleeds.

Urgent care centers also can provide X-rays and lab tests in case of suspected infections or broken bones. If your child needs a school physical and can’t get a timely appointment with the pediatrician, urgent care may be a good alternative. Keep in mind that physicals are free with Maryland Health Connection plans at a doctor’s office, but are not always free if you use an urgent care center.

Go to a hospital emergency room immediately or call 911 for symptoms such as:

  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Open fractures
  • Severe bleeding
  • Chest pain
  • Head injury or other major trauma
  • One-sided weakness or numbness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe abdominal pain.

Choosing wisely will save you money. Urgent care centers are typically around seven times cheaper (averaging a cost of $200) than a visit to the ER (averaging a cost of $1,400). At an ER, you will have higher co-pays and other charges. If your insurance company deems your visit a non-medical emergency, they may not cover it.

For the right care, follow these steps. First, try to make an appointment with your primary care doctor. If he or she isn’t available, head over to an urgent care center. For true emergencies, go straight to the hospital.

About Maryland Health Connection

Maryland Health Connection is Maryland’s official health insurance marketplace for individuals and families to compare plans and enroll in health and dental coverage. It’s the only place to get financial help with health insurance. See if you qualify for financial help like tax credits or Medicaid/MCHP to make health insurance more affordable.

Visit MarylandHealthConnection.gov to enroll, or download our free Enroll MHC mobile app for Android and iPhone.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube!