Urgent care centers are starting to crop up all over the show. But, many people are still confused about what the real difference between the emergency room and urgent care facilities is. As Americans, we are tired of lofty definitions that don’t mean anything. We want to know what the best thing to do in a real-life situation is. We need to know what is best for both our families and our pockets. 

This review is going to help you answer some everyday questions: “Where do I go if I think my husband is having a heart attack” as opposed to ‘Where do I go if my son has sprained his ankle at football practice?” Making the wrong choice can cost you thousands of dollars – not the surprise you need in the middle of a medical emergency. 

The Main Difference Between Emergency Room And Urgent Care Centers 

An emergency room (ER) is a part of a hospital. There are doctors, operating rooms, and high-grade equipment on standby. This is why ERs are extremely expensive. In fact, the average cost of an emergency room visit in the US is $2500 (without the ambulance drive!). Not to mention the wait, which often exceeds 24 hours. 

The truth is, roughly 60-75% of emergency room cases are treatable at an urgent care center. This is normally faster and a fraction of the cost. urgent care centers are smaller facilities that operate for longer periods of time than your normal doctor’s room. This is where you go when you need urgent medical assistance but it is not a life or death situation.

Knowing the difference between the emergency room and urgent care facilities will help you decide what care is best for you. 

When to Go to Urgent Care 

This is where you go if you need fast medical care but the circumstances are not life-threatening. Such situations include: 

    • Minor Musculoskeletal Injuries: such as a fractured bone, sprained ankle or sore back
    • Stomach Ailments: nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea 
    • Everyday Accidents: cuts, scrapes, and bruises 
    • Fever and other Flu-like Symptoms: Ear- or sinus pain, fever, and coughs – infants may require an emergency room depending on the severity
    • Tests and Routine Procedures: X-rays, laboratory tests, and vaccines 


When to Go to an Emergency Room

You only need to go to an ER when the situation is severe or life-threatening. Such situations include: 

  • Suspected heart attack or stroke 
  • Head trauma 
  • Loss of vision 
  • Extreme blood loss 
  • The patient has lost consciousness

Key Differences Between Emergency Room and Urgent Care Centers

The Type of Problem 

Emergency rooms deal with life-threatening situations where urgent care facilities do not. This is the main difference between the emergency room and urgent care centers. 

The Price

ERs are usually much more expensive than urgent care centers. This is because they need more staff, equipment, and are open twenty-four hours a day. Emergency rooms need to be prepared for anything from a stubbed toe to a natural disaster.  

The difference between the emergency room and urgent care costs is a major factor when choosing where to get help. 

Waiting Times

The wait in the ER is typically much longer than urgent care facilities. This is because the person who has the most severe case always needs to be seen first. 

For example, you take your child to the emergency room for a mild sports injury – a sprained ankle. At the same time, an ambulance arrives with a car crash victim that requires immediate surgery. Obviously, the car crash victim needs to be treated first – to prevent loss of life. In the meantime, you and your child are likely to wait for several hours before you are seen by a doctor. 

On the other hand, an urgent care center doesn’t deal with these life or death cases. This means that cases are mostly seen on a ‘first come first serve’ basis.

Diagnostic Equipment 

Urgent care facilities do have a fair amount of diagnostic equipment such as x-ray machines and lab testing facilities. But, they do not have as much equipment as an emergency room that is connected to a hospital. If advanced diagnostic tools, such as a CT scan are required, you need to go to an ER.

Operating Times 

ERs operate for twenty-four hours a day, whereas urgent care facilities do not. But, urgent care facilities are open for extended hours when compared to the average doctor’s rooms.

Number of Cases

There are generally a lot more patients being seen at the ER than at an urgent care facility. One of the main advantages of this is a shorter waiting time. Another perk is that the doctors are more focused on the individual client.

On-site Pharmacy 

Because ERs are based in a hospital setting, there is normally a 24/7 on-site pharmacy. Urgent care facilities do not offer this service – meaning you will have to get your medicine elsewhere.

On-site Operating Rooms 

Emergency rooms are connected to hospitals, as a result, there is 24/7 access to surgical rooms. Urgent care facilities are stand-alone and do not have on-site surgical suites. 


Difference Between Emergency Room and Urgent Care Pros and Cons 

Each different type of facility has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Emergency rooms and urgent care centers are no different. 

ERs are ready for anything, meaning that no matter what your problem is, you should be able to get help. This ‘readiness’ requires certain facilities. These include high-grade diagnostic equipment, lots of medical staff, on-site surgical suites, and 24-hour pharmacies. Another major advantage is that ERs run around the clock. On top of this, emergency rooms need to treat anybody, regardless of their ability to pay. 

The waiting times and costs are the two major disadvantages of emergency room care. If you do not have a severe life-threatening condition, there is no need to waste both time and money in the emergency room. Emergency rooms are generally overloaded with patients. This means that doctors have less time for each individual. 

Urgent care centers are not open twenty-four hours a day and have limited equipment. Yet, they are sufficient to deal with most medical problems. These facilities have lower operational costs, leading to better affordability for the patient. 

An important advantage of urgent care is a decreased patient load. This has a double bonus. Firstly, the waiting times are reduced. Secondly, doctors have more time for each patient.


There is No Winner

Emergency rooms and urgent care centers form part of the larger health care system. You can’t say that one is better than the other. Each facility serves a different purpose. If you are not in a life-threatening situation, the difference between the emergency room and urgent care really matters because:

  1. You should get helped faster.
  2. It is more affordable.
  3. The doctor has more time for the individual patient. This is an important difference between the emergency room and urgent care centers.
  4. It is better for the system to decant patients from the emergency room. This gives overworked staff a chance to focus on more critical cases.  

difference between emergency room and urgent care

But What About Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is another option for when you need immediate medical assistance. This service gives you access to on-call doctors for electronic consultations via phone or video chat. This is another option to consider. If the problem you need help with is more routine, then maybe you don’t need to go to an urgent care center or an emergency room. 

Why worry about the difference between an emergency room and urgent care facilities when you have a doctor in your pocket?

Scoop Health 

Scoop Health is a medical cost sharing community. We help our members find affordable solutions to quality medical care. Members pay a monthly sharing amount into a joint community fund which can be called upon when a medical need arises. Our members have free 24/7 access to Teladoc telemedicine services

Teladoc is a 24/7 service that provides immediate telephonic access to a board-certified physician. This service can be used in place of routine doctor visits or to get advice when considering going to an emergency room or urgent care facility.    

The services offered by Teledoc includes the following perks: 


  • Anytime care: no matter what time it is or where you are, you always have a doctor in your pocket.
  • Fast Diagnosis: find out what the problem is quickly so you can get treatment as soon as possible. 
  • No Rush: There are no time limits on consultations. You can spend as much time with the doctor as you need.
  • No Age Limit: There is no age limit on patients – children of any age can get help. This is particularly useful for first-time parents who often panic. 
  • Secure Records: You can access your secure health records remotely with ease.
  • Fewer Trips to the ER: You don’t have to rush to the ER or urgent care center at the first sign of trouble. You can phone Teladoc first for advice on how to proceed. More often than not, going to a physical doctor won’t be necessary. 
  • Prescriptions: Teledoc Physicians can prescribe medications or refills where necessary. Narcotic prescriptions are not available through Teladoc.


Going to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care With Scoop

Scoop health helps you to navigate expensive ER or urgent care bills. Our tried and tested cost-sharing model is very simple to use. Patients register as cash patients – freeing you from any network restrictions. Once the itemized bill has arrived – the cost is divided between the community and the member. The individual pays a small initial unshareable amount (IUA) and the community pays the rest of the bill. In this way, the community is paying the king’s share of the burden, relieving financial pressure from the individual. 

At Scoop health we advocate for our patients. We will negotiate bills with the service providers – bringing the total cost down. Oftentimes, patients don’t even know that they have the right to negotiate large emergency room bills. Scoop Health’s members have these bills negotiated for them. 

You will get the best access to affordable care no matter the difference between emergency room and urgent care facilities.

Scoop health is highly experienced when dealing with urgent care facilities. In fact, our CEO, Art Goetze, was the founder of the first independent urgent care facility in America.  


  • Urgent care centers and emergency rooms both have an important part to play in the overall health care system. One cannot replace the other.
  • Emergency Rooms run 24/7 and are equipped to handle the most severe medical situations. This is why they are more expensive than urgent care facilities – their operating costs are much higher.
  • If the situation is not life-threatening, it is better to go to an urgent care facility. This is generally much cheaper than going to the ER.
  • ER’s have to treat the most critical cases first. This means that waiting times can become very long. This is a difference between the emergency room and urgent care facilities. Urgent care patients are seen on a first come first serve basis.
  • Telemedicine is a great option for around the clock virtual doctor’s consultations.  No matter the time it is or where you are, you always have a doctor in your pocket. This advice helps to reduce the number of both ER and emergency care visits. 


Medical emergencies are hard enough. You don’t need the bill to give you a nasty shock at the end of it. The difference between the emergency room and urgent care facilities might not be clear at first but it is simple. Urgent care facilities are for when you need help with a non-life-threatening condition. Whereas, emergency rooms are better for more serious life-or-death cases.


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