Decision Tree for Visiting an Emergency Room vs Urgent Care

A few days ago, a mother and her 6-year old son visited Preferred Urgent Care. Out of curiosity, our staff asked her how she heard about us. We found out that in the past, when she or her family members had “health emergencies” and couldn’t get an appointment with their primary care physician, they went an Emergency Room. She had a rude awakening after she got an $850 bill in the mail from her last ER visit for a minor bug bite. Determined to get some answers on the validity of the ER charges, she decided to do some research of her own. Here is what she found:

  1. There are no rule of thumb on who determines what an emergency is. Generally, the patient makes this decision. National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey estimates that one-third to one-half of all ER visits are for non-urgent care . If a mother visits the ER for her son’s minor bug bite (which is non-life threatening), the ER is able to attend to the patient and charge for the visit as an ER visit at a higher rate although an Urgent Care would have been a cheaper.
  1. If this mother had known of a better alternative to an ER for non-life threatening health emergencies (i.e. Urgent Care Center) she could have saved over $650 as the average urgent care visit costs about $200. ER service fees often lack transparency so it is unclear at the time of visit what your final bill will be until you get it in the mail. On the other hand, Urgent Care Centers usually give you an estimate amount based on your plan, deductible amount and the facility’s participation in an insurance company’s network. According to, an emergency department staff won’t fill you in on cheaper alternative options to an ER. There could be an urgent-care clinic nearby that is better equipped to treat your condition with shorter wait times and a smaller bill and you may never know.
  1. While the patient determines what an emergency is, this does not guarantee that an ER will actually give your non-life threatening issue priority over others. For instance, ER clinical staff are required to prioritize a fainting patient over a mother coming in for bug bite. This results in a long wait time at the ER compared to an urgent care where you can be seen almost immediately.

This mother also acknowledged that lack of public awareness has led to bad financial decisions when it comes to getting healthcare services– an issue she agreed most people struggle with. But she knows better now. She has a health decision tree she follows when something comes up. This decision tree helps her know when to schedule an appointment with her primary care physician, when to go to the urgent care if she can’t wait but it’s not life-threatening, and when to go to the ER when it is actually life-threatening. This tool led this mother to Preferred Urgent Care. Preferred Urgent Care is located in Katy, TX at the corner of Hwy 99 and Bay Hill Boulevard within the same shopping center as Kroger and Hasta La Pasta.

Our core mission is health promotion and disease prevention. We want everyone to have access to immediate health care services without breaking the bank. Join our awareness campaign by sharing this with as many families as possible!

If you have a non-urgent condition – fever, flu symptoms, allergic reactions, minor cuts, animal bites, broken bones – urgent care centers are far better for time and cost. If you have an extreme medical condition – stroke, heart attack, severe burns, electrical shock – the resources and services available at hospital emergency rooms make that a far better choice

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