Where to go When the Doc is Out: ER v. Urgent Care Costs

There is often a level of uncertainty when you’re unable to book an appointment with your regular doctor – should you visit an emergency room (ER) or an urgent care facility? Both have their benefits, but the real kicker comes with cost. Of course, if your symptoms seem life-threatening, you should always seek out the ER or dial 911. However, there are often symptoms of non-life-threatening conditions—that always seem to pop up on the weekend or after office hours—that urgent care facilities can treat at a fraction of the cost.

Debt.org, using Medica data, brings some of these cost differences to life in the graph below.

Emergency Rooms vs Urgent Care Centers

In 2013, some of the leading principal reasons for ER visits were stomach and abdominal pains (10 million), coughing (5 million), fevers (4.6 million) and vomiting (2.8 million) – each of which can be treated at an urgent care facility or separate private practice (depending on severity). This information, combined with the graph above, raises the important question: Why you are seeking treatment in the first place? Again, if the answer is for life-threatening symptoms or injuries, go to the ER or call 911. For anything else, the alternative may be your best bet.

Reasons to visit the ER:

  • Severe chest pain
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Paralysis
  • Intestinal bleeding
  • High fevers (over 103) or rash, especially among children
  • Vaginal bleeding with pregnancy
  • Uncontrollable vomiting
  • Poisoning
  • Severe head or eye injuries
  • Allergic reactions
  • Unconsciousness

When to seek alternative options:

  • Minor abdominal pain
  • Fevers, flu or cold symptoms
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Ear infections
  • Seasonal allergies
  • Bronchitis
  • Sprains and broken bones
  • Cuts and bleeding that may require stitches
  • Breathing discomfort, such as moderate asthma
  • Urinary tract infections
  • X-rays and lab tests
  • Minor neck pain

(Source: El Camino Hospital)

How HealthCost can help.

Even once you deem your symptoms unnecessary for the ER, large gaps in cost between urgent care facilities and private practices can still occur. HealthCost helps you bridge this gap by providing the tools you need to shop for healthcare services in advance. By using HealthCost, you can see specialists, procedures and facilities available in your area in real time with the price tag attached.

Below are some of the most common specialists and procedures searchable through HealthCost.


  • Allergist/Immunologist
  • Infectious Disease Specialist
  • Sports Medicine Specialist
  • Family Practitioner
  • Internist
  • Pain Management Specialist
  • Endocrinologist
  • Vascular Surgeon
  • Neurologist
  • Urologist
  • Gastroenterologist

Imaging Procedures:

  • X-ray (ankle, arm, hand, hip, pelvis, chest, leg, foot, skull)
  • Ultrasound Imaging
  • Breast imaging
  • CT Imaging
  • Radiography sinuses
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

With a resource like HealthCost, it pays to stay informed. Start your search today.

Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this blog or found by following any link on this blog. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information.

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