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ER vs. Urgent Care: Where to Go Based on Your Symptoms

For years, when a fever spikes or someone falls and sprains an ankle, the first thought is to get them to an emergency room. It may be time to expand your thinking. Emergency care at a hospital may not be the fastest and most affordable way to deal with unexpected health inconveniences. 

Urgent care centers offer convenient and affordable medical care for everything from the flu to broken bones to allergic reactions. Like emergency care, urgent care centers are overseen by board-certified physicians and other trained and licensed medical staff, including nurse practitioners or physician assistants. 

One of the major differences between urgent care and emergency care is the cost. The average cost of an urgent care visit is about $150. The average cost of a trip to the emergency room is almost $1,000. 

If sticker shock isn’t enough, let’s talk wait time. Did you know more than 87 percent of patients at the emergency room are forced to wait more than an hour to be seen? The average wait at an urgent care is 20 minutes.

Aside from cost and wait times, there are important reasons to choose one type of care over the other. 

When to Go to Urgent Care

Urgent care services are focused on convenience, affordable services, and immediate responses to pressing medical issues — similar to what you would seek out at a primary care provider. However, urgent care saves you the hassle of working around your doctor’s schedule and waiting for them to fit you in. You can also avoid waiting in a crowded emergency room. 

Some urgent care centers, such as American Family Care, have fully equipped labs to run blood work, urine tests, COVID-19 tests, and tests for other illnesses. Many centers also have x-ray equipment to help diagnose injuries and other conditions.

Here are services you can be treated for at most urgent care centers:

  • Common cold
  • Flu symptoms
  • Vaccinations  
  • Minor burns
  • Rashes
  • Sore throat
  • Sprains and other minor injuries
  • Drug testing 
  • Annual Physicals

When to go to the ER

Emergency rooms should be sought out for extremely serious life-threatening situations that could put you at risk for death or disability. 

You should go straight to the ER if you experience any of the following medical emergencies:

  • Electrical shock
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Severe allergic reactions
  • Severe burns
  • Severe choking 
  • Drowning
  • Severe/open fractures
  • Signs of stroke or heart attack

The next time you have a medical issue, make sure you consider your options. An emergency room will not turn you away if you seek care for a non-life-threatening health issue. But you can save yourself some time and a lot of money by seeking treatment at an urgent care. 

American Family Care is a great option if you do need to find an alternative to emergency care. We offer extended weekday hours, we’re open on weekends, and you never need an appointment. To learn more about the services offered by AFC and to find a location near you, click here.

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3700 Cahaba Beach Road Birmingham, AL 35242

Our Mission and Values:

Our mission is to provide the best healthcare possible in a kind and caring environment, in an economical manner, while respecting the rights of all of our patients, at times and locations convenient to the patient.

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