What is an urgent care clinic? Is it less expensive than an emergency room for injuries and illnesses?

Answer: 

Urgent care is a type of walk-in clinic that provides ambulatory care outside of a traditional emergency room. Urgent care clinics treat injuries or illnesses requiring immediate care but are not life threatening. You do not need an appointment for most urgent care clinics. Urgent care centers are usually open earlier and stay open longer than a traditional medical office. Costs vary but you may find this option to be less expensive than using an emergency room when the care you need is not an emergency.

Some examples of urgent conditions include:

  • Accidents and falls
  • Sprains and strains
  • Moderate back problems
  • Bleeding/cuts -- not bleeding a lot but requiring stitches
  • Diagnostic services, including X-rays and laboratory tests
  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Fever or flu
  • Vomiting, diarrhea or dehydration
  • Sore throat or cough
  • Minor broken bones and fractures (i.e. fingers, toes)
  • Skin rashes and infections
  • Urinary tract infections

The costs at Urgent Care Centers vary by facility, you should call ahead to ask if services are billed as an office visit and who you may be seen by at your visit, urgent care centers may be staffed by mid-level clinicians, not just MDs.  Also, check your insurance card to see what you will pay for a copay to use an urgent care facility - it is typically different than what you would pay for an office visit or an ER visit.