Should I go to the E.R. or an urgent care facility? Here’s how to decide

Posted at 4:02 PM, Apr 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-04 18:02:23-04

Whether it’s a cold, the flu, or a broken arm a lot of people are wondering: Where’s the best place to go to get the appropriate care I need?

If you can’t get an appointment with your primary care physician, or if you don’t have one, it’s common to turn to the emergency room for help, but for many illnesses and injuries, patients can get the same care at a lower cost — and get it faster — by turning to an urgent care clinic, such as InstaCare, or telehealth service, such as Connect Care.

The average cost of an ER visit in the U.S. is $1,917, according to a 2016 study by the Health Care Cost Institute — while the average cost for a basic checkup at an Intermountain InstaCare is only $175. And now Intermountain’s Connect Care service allows people to talk with a clinician on a computer or mobile device for $49 or less.

Here’s a new resource to help you get the care you need: Intermountain Healthcare has created an online list of situations to help patients choose where they should go for care. For example, people should go to an ER if they experience chest pain or pressure, severe bleeding, a head injury, or trouble breathing. An urgent care would be better for less serious issues such as cough, fever, and other illness.

Here is information on each service:

Connect Care
Connect Care is designed for common, low-level, urgent care concerns and can be accessed 24/7 from anywhere using a mobile device or computer with a camera and video-streaming capabilities.

Frequently treated conditions include sinus pain, stuffy and runny nose, sore throat, eye infections, urinary tract infection, lower back pain, and bronchitis. If a Connect Care provider feels that your medical issue cannot be adequately diagnosed or treated by a video visit and requires immediate in person evaluation, the provider will direct you to in-person care and waive your Connect Care fee.
• Cost: $49
• Covered by many insurance plans, including Medicaid – check with your insurer to determine coverage and copay
• Is not covered by Medicare
• Best for: common, non-life-threatening conditions
• Adult and pediatric care.
• Care provided by board-certified advanced practice clinicians (nurse practitioners and physicians assistants)
• Can prescribe most types of medications if needed, but not controlled substance medications.
• Does not provide lab services, imaging, or other tests
• 24/7 access from anywhere on a mobile device or computer

InstaCare or KidsCare
Intermountain InstaCares provide care through licensed physicians and specialized staff to handle non-life-threatening urgent care needs, from sore throats and illnesses to cuts or broken bones. KidsCares specialize in urgent care for pediatric patients.
• Cost: Varies
• Covered by many insurance plans – check with your insurer to determine coverage and copay
• Covered by Medicare and Medicaid
• Best for: common, non-life-threatening conditions
• Care provided by board-certified physicians and specialized staff
• Can prescribe medication
• Offer lab services, X-rays, and some outpatient tests
• Access at physical location. Most InstaCares are open as early as 8 a.m. and close at 8 or 9 p.m., though some have extended hours as late as midnight. KidsCares are generally open from 4 or 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., with variable weekend hours.
• The website also lists InstaCare and KidsCare locations nearby and estimated wait times. Patients can also use the site to sign up on a waiting list before they arrive.

Emergency Room
Intermountain emergency rooms are open 24/7 and are staffed with doctors, nurses, and technicians who are specially trained to handle potentially severe and/or life-threatening conditions.
• Cost: Varies
• Covered by all insurance plans in emergency situations
• Covered by Medicare and Medicaid
• Best for: potential limb, functional or life-threatening conditions
• Care provided by board-certified emergency physicians, nurses, technicians, and support staff
• Can prescribe medication
• Offers lab services, X-rays, specialized care, and tests (both inpatient and outpatient)
• 24/7 access at a physical location

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, you should visit the ER if you have any of these warning signs:
• Chest pain or pressure
• Severe headache or head injury
• Severe bleeding
• Sudden or severe pain
• Coughing blood or vomiting blood
• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• Sudden dizziness, weakness, or changes in vision
• Severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea
• Changes in mental status, such as confusion or weakness
• Evaluation of an assault, physical or sexual abuse, or child abuse.
• Severe infection
• Complications of early pregnancy
• Abdominal pain that is severe or with repeated and persistent vomiting

“Intermountain’s urgent care website can help people get better care, faster, for the lowest possible cost,” says Mark Ott, MD, medical director of Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. “Many of the conditions that bring people to our advanced-level emergency department could have been handled at their local Intermountain hospital, InstaCare, or primary care doctor’s office. We’re sharing this information because we want to help people get the very best healthcare as close to home and for the least cost possible.”

He adds that because of Intermountain Healthcare’s integrated electronic medical records, it’s even possible for patients across Utah to get expert opinions without having to travel.

“If a doctor in St. George needs my opinion on something, I can access the patient’s records at my office here in Salt Lake City. In consultation with the patient’s local physician, I can give a specialist’s input and possibly save the patient an eight-hour round trip, and still have them receive the care they need,” said Dr. Ott, who’s a nationally renowned cancer surgeon.

Intermountain Healthcare has also made it easy for people to find the medical services closest to them by typing in their zip code here.