If you wake up on a Saturday morning with a fever of 101° F (38° C) and don’t want to wait to get a call back from your primary care physician (PCP), an urgent care center may be the best option for you.
Urgent care centers are the quickest and easiest way to get medical care when a doctor isn’t available or when your problem can’t wait for an appointment.
Urgent care centers are staffed with physicians, physician’s assistants, and nurses qualified to care for patients just as your PCP and their staff are.
The main difference is your PCP is familiar with your medical history and background, while the urgent care professional isn’t.
In this article, I’ll tell you what symptoms or ailments indicate you should go to an urgent care center.
Then, I’ll talk about the cost of urgent care and how those costs compare to an emergency room visit expense.
I’ll explain what determines the cost of urgent care, and finally, I’ll give you some ideas on how to save on those costs.
When to Visit Urgent Care
As long as an urgent care center is open, you can walk in without an appointment and be seen for your health problem.
With over 9,000 urgent care in the United States, there’s at least one in most urban and suburban communities across the country.
Rural communities have fewer urgent care options.
Some of the most common reasons for visiting an urgent care center include:
- Back pain
- Ear pain
- Deep cuts that need stitches
- Muscle or joint pain
- Upper respiratory infections or asthma
- Urinary tract or bladder infections
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Bronchitis or chronic coughing
Cost of Urgent Care
Office Visit Cost
The average cost of an urgent care visit is $100 – $150.
Your cost may be higher or lower depending on your insurance coverage and whether you’ve met your deductible for the year, your copay, and your coinsurance amount.
Other factors that will affect your costs include any lab tests you may need and the type of treatment required.
For example, if you have a broken bone that needs casting or a cut that needs stitches, that will add to your expense. In addition, if the urgent care center provides you with medication, that will add to your costs, too.
According to Debt.org, these are the average costs for nine of the most common reasons for urgent care visits.
|Condition||Urgent Care Cost for Treatment|
|Upper Respiratory Infection||$111|
|Urinary Tract Infection||$112|
Urgent care centers provide most services, tests, and treatment that a primary care physician’s office offers.
While you may prefer to see your doctor who knows you and understands your medical history, off-hours treatment can be challenging to get with a PCP.
Urgent care centers are an excellent alternative for immediate needs that don’t require an emergency room visit.
Services that are available at urgent care centers are:
Most vaccinations, including for the flu, COVID-19, international travel required vaccines, and children’s school-required vaccinations, are offered at urgent care centers.
In-office lab tests are available at most urgent care centers, including
- Blood tests: metabolic panels, glucose tests
- Fecal blood
An urgent care center can treat injuries such as sprains, possible broken bones that aren’t severe, minor burns, and cuts that require a few stitches.
Urgent care centers have x-ray machines to determine if an injury is a sprain or a broken bone and have staff to set or brace the injury.
There is no substantial difference in cost for an urgent care visit based on where you live.
Each urgent care company may set its prices higher or lower than average, but the amounts for testing, office visits, and treatments will be approximately the same wherever you go for help.
Some cities’ urgent care centers are more costly than others.
Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room Visit
Unless you have a true emergency, it’s always better to go to an urgent care center instead of an emergency room.
Urgent care centers treat patients with less severe and complicated medical problems than emergency rooms, so the wait time is generally lower, and your out-of-pocket expenses will be less.
Differences in Services and Costs
Unlike the symptoms indicating you should visit urgent care that I discussed earlier, the reasons to go to the emergency room or call 911 for an ambulance are more serious.
They include situations when your symptoms are life-threatening or come on very quickly and are severe.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain, left arm pain, or left jaw pain
- Severe allergic reaction (swelling lips, difficulty swallowing or breathing)
- Stroke symptoms, including slurred speech or the sudden onset of numbness/weakness in any area of your body, facial droop, imbalance, or vision problems
- Confusion or delusion
- Passing out, even briefly
- Broken bone in areas like the ribs, skull, face, or pelvis
- Vaginal bleeding or pain while pregnant
The difference in cost for treatment at an urgent care center vs. an emergency room is substantial.
According to Debt.org, common ailments such as strep throat and bronchitis can cost up to five times as much to treat in an emergency room as at an urgent care center.
The average cost of an emergency room visit in 2019 was $1,082 and $1,642, depending on your health insurance.
What Determines the Cost of Urgent Care Treatment?
When you visit an urgent care center, the type of services you need will determine your final bill and out-of-pocket expenses.
For example, while an office visit will cost between $100 – $150, additional charges can include blood and lab tests, x-rays, treatments, supplies, medications, and other necessary procedures.
ER visits are more expensive because emergency rooms have more equipment to be serviced regularly, more staff, and more overhead.
Your insurance should cover your costs for an urgent care visit, depending on whether you’ve met your deductible yet.
If you have reached that number, your expenses shouldn’t exceed your required copay.
Check to make sure you choose an in-network urgent care center since your insurance plan won’t cover out-of-network centers.
You can call your insurance company or check their website to find out which urgent care centers are covered under your plan, or check with the urgent care center to see if they are covered.
The location of your urgent care center in your city shouldn’t impact the overall cost of your visit, especially if you’re in an urban or suburban area where there are many urgent care options which means prices should be competitive.
However, some cities do have higher urgent care costs than others.
How to Save on Urgent Care
- Be sure to go to an in-network urgent care center to avoid paying out-of-network prices.
- Ask if it’s less expensive to send labwork out for testing.
- Call to see if a scheduled appointment is less costly if you can wait.
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a provider in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
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