If you go to the nearest urgent care facility complaining of chest pain, chances are they'll send you to the emergency department. If you walk into the emergency department with a small cut on your finger, you'll be treated, but going to urgent care could have saved you time and money.
So when is it appropriate to stop in an urgent care clinic or to bypass it all together and head to the nearest emergency department?
Dr. Enrique Baires, a family practice physician at the Ogden Clinic, said there are many differences between urgent care and emergency care.
"Common reasons to visit an urgent care center instead of an emergency room would include broken bones, sprains, strains, colds, coughs, mild asthma attacks, fevers, urinary tract infections, influenza, cuts, rashes, minor burns and sore throats," he said. "Urgent care offers extended hours and, typically, wait time for patients to be seen by a provider is less than what they would experience at an emergency room."
In addition, Baires said, some serious illnesses can also be adequately treated in an urgent care setting, such as skin infections requiring IV antibiotics, pneumonia and fractures.
Dr. Jared Morris, a physician at Tanner Clinic in Layton said emergency departments are designed for fast, life-or-limb care.
"Life-threatening situations should always be seen in an emergency department setting," Morris said. "Those include stroke, heart attack,
severe bleeding, head injury or other major trauma, severe abdominal pain, chest pain, difficulty breathing, loss of
consciousness, sudden loss of vision or blurred vision."
Urgent care is also cheaper, said both physicians, perhaps two to three times cheaper than an emergency room visit, depending on the person's insurance.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans made 136.1 million visits to emergency rooms in 2012. One third or more could have been treated at an urgent care facility, which could have saved more than $18 billion in annual costs.
"The co-pay is significantly less than an emergency department co-pay," Morris said. "A standard office visit is billed, which may range from $80 to $150 on average. Labs and imaging are also charged but tend to be cheaper in urgent care settings. Urgent care facilities can save time and keep emergency departments free for more serious situations and illnesses."
Baires also said urgent care facilities usually have several locations. Ogden Clinic has five urgent care centers. Tanner Clinic has three.