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Should I go to the emergency room or urgent care?

Ouch! You need a doctor fast. Do you know the difference between urgent care and the ER?

By Sandy Olevitch
November 2, 2017

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You have a kidney stone. Or need stitches. Or have intense back pain. What to do? If you need immediate medical attention and can’t wait until the doctor’s office is open tomorrow, there's help.

Urgent care clinics treat minor illnesses and injuries

Urgent care is best when you or your family have a minor problem that can’t wait until tomorrow, and the doctor’s office is closed. Urgent care costs less than the emergency room (ER), and it’s usually faster, too. Most urgent care locations are open evenings, weekends and holidays.

Find fast urgent care fast from 23 Park Nicollet, HealthPartners and St. Croix Valley locations.

Emergency rooms treat major health problems

Treat severe health problems in the emergency room (ER). If you have a life-threatening emergency and need help right away, call 911. ERs are usually open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Urgent care $$

  • Minor injuries and burns
  • Cold and flu symptoms
  • Cuts, scrapes and stitches
  • Sprains and strains
  • Sore throat and strep throat

Emergency room $$$

  • Major injuries and burns
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Stomach pain (severe)
  • Bleeding you can’t stop
  • Allergic reaction (severe)
  • Pregnant women in labor
  • Poisoning

Where you go can affect your wallet

At the ER, your costs usually add up quicker than at urgent care.

  • If you have insurance and already met your deductible: The amount you’ll pay varies by insurance plan. However, emergency care generally costs a lot more than urgent care. The average copay for a trip to urgent care is $40-65. And the average copay for a trip to the ER is $100-$150. The price also goes up if you have coinsurance.
  • If you haven’t met your deductible or don’t have insurance: You’ll have to pay for some or all your visit. So you’ll want to go where costs tend to run lower. Try urgent care or the ER based on the chart above to get the right level of care. And for things that can wait a day or two, try to go to your primary care doctor.

Get immediate help deciding where to go

If you have health insurance, your insurance company wants you to get the right level of care for your injury. So they might offer a phone line staffed by experts who can help you decide where to go for care.

For example, if you have HealthPartners insurance, you can get free help. CareLine nurses are available 24/7 to help you figure out where you should go for care. Call CareLine at 800-551-0859. Check your insurance card for details specific to your insurance carrier.

Be careful with “urgency centers”

While it may sound like urgent care, it’s usually not. Urgency centers are often freestanding emergency rooms. And on average, they cost upwards of twice the price of urgent care.

Find the closest Park Nicollet or HealthPartners urgent care

With 23 locations, there’s a Park Nicollet or HealthPartners urgent care right in your neighborhood. You don’t need an appointment to visit an urgent care clinic, just walk in or check wait times. We are open evenings, weekends and some holidays. If you don’t want to leave the comfort of your couch, virtuwell our online clinic is open 24/7 for treatment of over 60 common conditions. You can get any prescriptions on your way out from your visit in ten minutes at locations with a pharmacy. Choose from 23 locations:

About Sandy Olevitch

Sandy Olevitch is the director of urgent care for Park Nicollet and HealthPartners. In this role, he partners with clinicians and staff so they can provide the best patient experience possible. In his free time, he enjoys reading and exercise.

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