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Let’s answer the big question: What is the difference between an emergency department and an urgent care clinic?

We at Experity, the #1-rated urgent care EMR / EHR company, see this issue pop up nearly every year: confusion over when to go to the emergency department and when to go to urgent care. A patient, not sure whether his or her condition warrants a visit to the emergency room or not, decides, “I’ll just play it safe and go to the ER.” This can be a costly mistake.

While the ER is equipped to treat nearly any condition, choosing ER care over urgent care could mean longer waits and inflated medical bills. An urgent care center is a more cost-effective option that offers immediate care for non-life-threatening conditions.

The information provided below can help you determine what best suits your case.



Urgent care centers provide outpatient care for minor injuries or emergencies such as cuts, fractures, minor burns, flu and cold symptoms, and so forth.

Emergency departments are located within a hospital and can treat major emergencies, such as heart attacks, as they have easy access to operating rooms and critical care units.


Wait Time

Urgent care centers normally have shorter wait time. Because an urgent care doesn’t see high-trauma cases, there is less waiting to be seen for a minor injury. Urgent cares are often open evenings and weekends, closing around 10 or 11 p.m. This means middle-of-the-night illnesses or injuries may need to go to the ER.

Emergency departments usually take much longer to treat non-emergent cases. Emergency cases are always prioritized first. However, ERs are open 24 hours, so they can provide care round the clock.



Urgent care centers can keep their overhead expenses lower, and are a cost-effective alternative to the ER. Patients usually receive treatment for a third of the cost of the emergency department.

Emergency departments are required by law to provide treatment to anyone who requests it, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay, have higher cost due to the requirement that they be prepared to treat any injury or illness, and must carry their share of the hospital overhead. As a result, they charge patients at a higher rate.


Share your thoughts:

Are you as a patient confused on when to head to an urgent care? Have you ever tried avoiding the ER by using an urgent care instead? Are you an urgent care provider eager to help your community members receive the best care for their condition? I look forward to your comments.

This resource was first published prior to the 2019 merger between DocuTAP and Practice Velocity. The content reflects our legacy brands.

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