Is it an "Emergency" or "Urgency?"
The definitive guide for deciding whether to visit an ER or an urgent care center
By Thomas Vincz, Public Relations Manager
As you move the heavy box after finally tackling that garage cleaning project, another big box behind it tips over, falls on your hand and you hear a CRACK. You don’t even want to look at your hand now, because you already realize: You’ve probably broken a finger. OUCH!
For many people, the first impulse—after uttering a barrage of colorful words—is to make a beeline to the emergency room (ER). But before you do, you might just save yourself some time and a lot of money if you go to an urgent care center (UCC) instead.
They go by many different names, but UCCs have one purpose: to treat patients who have an injury or illness that requires immediate care but doesn’t rise to the level of an ER visit.
Why Use Urgent Care Centers?
Typically, UCCs are as close to your home as a local hospital ER (or closer) and staffed by medical professionals who can treat and discharge you in an hour or less – compared to an average ER stay of four hours.
The out-of-pocket costs for members are also cheaper. Those who get their insurance through their employers can have a co-pay as little as $5, and no more than $50, when they use a UCC in Horizon’s network.
Visiting an ER can be a lot more expensive. According to the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute, the average ER visit cost was $1,389 in 2017, up 176% over the last decade. Depending on your specific plan, you could be responsible for up to hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket costs for an ER visit.
There is real opportunity for members to save on cost and convenience by using UCCs. In 2017, headaches, urinary tract infections and respiratory infections ranked in the top 10 list of diagnoses treated at ERs. All are candidates for urgent care center treatment.
ER vs. UCC
Deciding on which facility to choose can also depend on when your accident or illness occurs (UCCs are open seven days a week but not 24 hours/around the clock like ERs) and the type and severity of your condition. Below is a quick guide on when to use an ER vs UCC:
Finding a UCC Near You
There is a quick and easy way to find a Horizon UCC in your neighborhood. Today, Horizon’s UCC network includes more than 153 urgent care centers across the state; a complete list can be found on Horizon Doctor & Hospital Finder.
Remember Your Primary Care Physician
The convenience of UCCs is helpful for busy members, but they should not replace a primary care physician or specialist, who offer continuity of care and a holistic look at your health. According to Dr. Steven Peskin, Horizon’s Executive Medical Director for Population Health, “Many primary care doctor’s offices now offer same-day appointments, and evening and weekend hours. So instead of rushing to the ER or urgent care center, a call to your regular doctor may be the best first option.”
If, however, your regular doctor isn’t available when you have an urgent health need, we’ve got you covered. Horizon requires UCCs to notify your primary care doctor of your visit so that she or he can keep your health records accurate and up to date, and keep your care coordinated.
There’s nothing pleasant about suffering a broken bone. But, paying less out-of-pocket, while waiting less time to get treated, can take a lot of the sting out of your health care experience.
*Based on ER and UCC visits in 2017 across all business (excluding Medicaid). Based on in-network and out-of-network claims. Includes self-funded account costs.