Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between ER and Urgent Care

What is ER  or Emergency Room?

Definition of ER:

ER is the emergency room that is a part of the hospital, and receive patients who walk-in and those who are transported by ambulance.

Hours of operation and Priority:

An ER stays open 24 hours a day every day of the year. Patients are triaged, with the sickest patients seen first. You are not seen based on time of arrival and both patients that walk-in and patients transported by ambulance are seen.


A hospital ER visit will be very expensive even with insurance. It could be, for example from $100 to about $200 copay per visit (with insurance).

Use of Emergency Room:

An ER should only be used for a life-threatening condition where a person is in imminent danger of loss of life or limb. Such conditions include suspected heart attack or stroke, trouble breathing, vomiting or coughing up blood, poisoning, suicidal or homicidal thoughts. Any major injury to an arm or leg should also result in a trip to the ER. If you are in a car accident you should also go to the ER to be evaluated.

Equipment and Personnel:

An ER will have extensive medical equipment including ECG, CT scanners, MRI scanners, X-ray and ultrasound machines. Doctors, nurses, surgeons, and specialists will all be present.

Treatment involved in ER :

Treatment can include minor diagnostic testing to more advanced diagnostic testing and treatment. The ER has the equipment to assist in the resuscitation of patients, including trauma patients, and stabilization of critical patients for further treatment. ER patients may be admitted to the hospital if they are deemed ill enough.

Emergency Room Waiting time:

Since an ER uses a triage system, you may have to wait a long time to receive care if you are not too ill. In some cases, this may mean several hours of waiting. You can spend a long time even once the doctor has seen you since they order blood tests and various other tests or you may need to wait for specialist consultations.

What is Urgent Care?

Definition of Urgent Care:

Urgent care is a treatment center that is staffed by doctors, and a few nurses to treat minor illnesses. Urgent care has longer hours of operation than a regular doctors’ office. It is separate from a hospital and does not receive patients transported by ambulance, only patients who walk-in.

Hours of operation and Priority:

An Urgent Care center does not stay open 24 hours. Many stay open from 7 am to 7 pm every day of the year. Patients are seen on a first come first serve basis, and patients cannot make an appointment. It is a walk-in only clinic that does not accept ambulance patients.


Urgent care is much cheaper than an ER visit, and usually requires a copay of $20 to $50 (with insurance).

Use of Urgent Care:

If you are ill or have a minor cut or sprain then you should go to urgent care rather than the ER. The urgent care staff can always refer you to the emergency room or to a specialist if they feel that your condition warrants it.

Equipment and Personnel:

An urgent care center will have limited medical equipment, such as an ECG machine. Doctors and a few nurses will be present.

Treatment involved in Urgent Care:

Treatment includes minor diagnostic testing based primarily on physical examination. You may be referred to a hospital for further testing. Wait time is usually not longer than an hour but it often depends on the time of day. You do not have to wait for test results so can leave quickly after seeing a doctor.


Difference between ER and Urgent Care

  1. Location

An ER is an emergency room that is attached to a hospital, while an urgent care center is in a separate building from and not associated with a hospital.

  1. Hours of operation in ER vs Urgent Care

An ER is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, while an urgent care center is open often every day for a limited time, usually from 7 am to 7 pm.

  1. Cost

Cost of an ER visit is high ($100 to $200 copay) compared with the cost of an urgent care visit ($20 to $50 copay).

  1. Use

An ER should be used for life-threatening conditions, while an urgent care center should be used for minor illnesses or injuries.

  1. Personnel

An ER has doctors, nurses, specialists; while an urgent care center has doctors and nurses.

  1. Equipment

An ER has extensive equipment such as an ECG, CT scan, MRI, X-ray, ultrasound; while an urgent care center has limited equipment such as an ECG.

  1. Treatment in ER vs Urgent Care

An ER provides extensive diagnostic testing, while an urgent care provides limited diagnostic testing.

  1. Priority

An ER uses triage while an urgent care uses first come basis.

  1. Waiting time for ER vs Urgent Care

Is usually quite long in an ER (even once seen by a doctor), while an urgent care is usually quite short (about an hour).

Table comparing ER and Urgent Care

Summary of ER Vs. Urgent Care

  • An ER is where people with life-threatening injuries should go, while an urgent care center is where people with minor injuries should go.
  • An ER offers more diagnostic services than an urgent care center; has more personnel and therefore is more expensive than an urgent care center.
  • An ER uses a triage system to determine which patients should be seen first.
  • An urgent care system sees patients on a first come basis.


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References :

[0]Hergenrader, Jamie. “How To Tell If You Should Go To Urgent Care Or The ER.” Womens health magazine. Hearst Communications Inc, 2017, https://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/urgent-care-or-emergency-room/slide/4.

[1]Scripps Health. “Should You Go to the Emergency Room or Urgent Care?” Scripps Health. Scripps Health, 2016, https://www.scripps.org/news_items/4231-should-you-go-to-the-emergency-room-or-urgent-care

[2]U.S. Healthworks. “Urgent care or the ER? Know the difference.” U.S. Healthworks. U.S. Healthworks Medical Group, 2018, https://www.ushealthworks.com/Services/Urgent-Care/ER-Differences.html

[3]Image credit: https://health.mil/~/media/Images/MHS/Photos/Belvoir-Community-Hospital.ashx?h=428&la=en&w=720

[4]Image credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/86/Urgent_Care%2C_Norman_Dr%2C_Valdosta.JPG/640px-Urgent_Care%2C_Norman_Dr%2C_Valdosta.JPG

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