UK HealthCare

Should You Go to Urgent Care or the Emergency Department?

Photo credit: Halfpoint; iStock / Getty Images Plus.

The University of Kentucky Public Relations and Strategic Communications Office provides a weekly health column available for use and reprint by news media. This week's column is by Gena Cooper, M.D., medical director of pediatric emergency medicine at UK HealthCare

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 27, 2021) — It’s scary enough being sick or hurt enough to need medical attention — and the uncertainty of where to go can add to an already stressful situation. But how do you know where do you go?

Nearly 82% of hospital emergency department visits could be handled by an urgent care facility. Urgent treatment centers (UTC) are walk-in clinics that are either affiliated with a hospital network or run by private companies. You can go to an urgent treatment center if you can’t get in with your primary doctor or if you need to be seen by a provider after business hours. Unlike emergency departments, the wait time can be shorter and the cost for treatment is much less.

Go to urgent care for non-life-threatening conditions such as:

  • Fever or flu
  • Eye and ear conditions
  • Sprains and strains
  • Cuts that may require stitches
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Minor broken bones and fractures, such as toes or fingers

Urgent treatment centers can also provide imaging and laboratory tests if ordered by your primary care provider, as well as flu shots and other routine immunizations and physicals required by schools, sports or camps.

Go to a hospital emergency department for severe injury or illness, which can include:

  • Major injury and trauma
  • Chest pain
  • Severe respiratory distress
  • Head injuries
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Broken bones
  • Serious burns
  • Severe pain

Both urgent care centers and emergency departments accept most major insurance plans, but the copay at urgent care might be much lower. The average cost of treatment for a urinary tract infection at a UTC is $112, versus $655 at an emergency department.

If you need a COVID-19 test, find a local testing site near you. Emergency departments cannot accommodate testing of those with no or mild symptoms.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.