When to choose urgent care instead of the ER

March 12, 2019
Here’s what you need to know about this convenient alternative to the ER that can save you time — and money.
In an emergency, call 911 and seek care from the nearest provider or hospital ER regardless of network participation.

When you need medical care right away, your first thought may be to head to the nearest hospital emergency room (ER). But if your condition isn’t serious or life-threatening, consider choosing a network urgent care center instead.

Urgent care centers are for health issues that can’t wait until you can see your primary care doctor but don’t require a trip to the ER. Here’s what you need to know about this convenient alternative to the ER that can save you time — and money:

  • Urgent care centers are free-standing facilities staffed with doctors and nurses, many with onsite labs and X-ray equipment.
  • No appointment is necessary, and some allow online check-in.
  • Most are open in the evening, as well as on weekends and holidays.
  • Most will see you in 20 minutes or less, and most patients are diagnosed, treated, and out the door in one hour or less, according to a 2017 Urgent Care Association survey.
  • The Medical Plan covers both urgent care and ER visits, but you’ll pay less out of your pocket* if you choose a network urgent care center instead of the ER, when appropriate.
​Urgent care centers can treat conditions such as ...​Go to the ER for ...
  • earaches
  • sinus infections
  • minor cuts that may need stitches
  • minor burns
  • fever without a rash
  • moderate flu symptoms
  • sore throats
  • sprains and strains
  • urinary tract infections
  • vomiting or persistent diarrhea
  • back and joint pain
  • signs of a heart attack, such as chest pain or chest pressure
  • signs of a stroke, such as sudden numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, trouble speaking or understanding
  • severe shortness of breath, severe asthma
  • sudden dizziness
  • seizures
  • loss of consciousness, fainting
  • severe cuts or burns
  • uncontrolled bleeding
  • thoughts of harming yourself or others
  • head or eye injury
  • broken bones or dislocated joints
  • fever with a rash

*You pay a flat dollar copay for each urgent care visit if you’re enrolled in the PPO or EPO. If you’re enrolled in the HDHP, services provided in an urgent care center are subject to the annual deductible and copayment provisions.