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The debate between visiting an emergency room or an urgent care center revolves mostly around cost first and need second. This is an unfortunately reality, but under the current healthcare system, it’s still prohibitively expensive to receive emergency care.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Americans made over 130 million visits to emergency rooms in 2012, with one-sixth of those arriving via an ambulance. While many emergency room visits are due to life-threatening conditions, federal law mandates that emergency rooms must provide care to all patients no matter their ability to pay. That means that uninsured and people without the ability to pay medical expenses out-of-pocket utilize emergency rooms for their primary health care.

Not only does this strain the abilities of emergency room to respond during crises, it limits the resources the seriously injured and ill have at their disposal, leading some to turn to less-crowded, but less-specialized urgent care facilities.

Urgent care clinics provide a cost-effective alternative to emergency rooms for those who need non-emergency treatments. Most urgent care facilities can treat fevers, flu symptoms, allergic reactions, cuts, bruises, bites, and broken bones faster and cheaper than emergency rooms. However, in life-threatening circumstances, emergency rooms should always be a patient’s number one destination.

The New England Health Institute recently stated that most emergency room visits were “totally avoidable,” indicating that the issue lies in education and awareness of the capabilities of each medical care option. Keep the contact information and location of your nearest emergency room and urgent care facility in your wallet, at home, and in your workplace to help prevent any miscommunications or confusion in the event of illness, injury, or emergency.

Of course, one of the most important aspects of quality healthcare is ensuring the provider accepts your form of insurance. If you’ve recently changed jobs, moved to Washington, or are switching health coverage plans, it’s time to talk to a health insurance representative to ensure your coverage extends to your nearest medical providers. The team at Mutual Benefits Inc. can help you select the right health coverage plan for your needs and your budget. Contact us today for more information or to schedule a consultation.