US Visitors: Should You Go to Urgent Care or The Emergency Room

A visit to the emergency room means receiving immediate medical attention, but many of the medical services previously dealt with only by emergency rooms are now handled by private facilities known as urgent care centers.

It’s important for visitors to the USA to understand that urgent care and the emergency room are NOT the same thing.

There are very specific reasons for visiting one or the other and, sometimes more important, visiting the wrong one could result in a claim denial by your travel health insurance company.

The Difference Between Urgent Care and The Emergency Room

The purpose of urgent care is to provide immediate medical attention during times when a patient’s regular doctor isn’t available. This means that you can visit an urgent care facility for those situations when you would normally visit your regular doctor.


Of course, if you are a visitor to the US, you don’t have a regular doctor or primary care physician but the idea remains the same. If you would normally take your ill parent to a regular doctor for treatment, then you take your parent to urgent care.

The purpose of the emergency room is to treat life-threatening injuries and illnesses that require specialized treatment and doctors. If you need fast limb-or-life-saving care, the emergency room is the place to go. Essentially, the emergency room is for medical treatment that cannot wait.

Emergency Rooms Often Have Long Wait Times

Urgent care facilities do not usually handle multiple traumas at once, so there is usually less waiting before the patient is seen by a physician. A visit to the emergency room in some regions of the US can mean a very long wait – even for critically ill patients.

Once you arrive at the emergency room, a practice called triage is implemented to see if your condition is more or less critical than that of other patients waiting for treatment.

Depending on your condition, you may wait a few minutes to a few hours to be seen by a medical doctor for treatment. As others come in to be treated – especially in large-scale disasters – your condition may not warrant treatment for many hours relative to the needs of other more critical patients.

A Critical Difference is in The Cost

One important difference between urgent care and the emergency room is the cost. Anyone who visits an emergency room – even for a relatively minor situation – is likely be surprised by the high cost and high medical bills. Many emergency rooms are required by state laws to provide treatment to anyone who requests it, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay, so the hospital sponsors make up their losses by charging those who can pay very high rates.

Urgent care centers, on the other hand, are private facilities that can exercise their right to refuse uninsured patients or those without the ability to pay. This practice helps keep costs low so insured and uninsured patients are not charged exorbitant rates for common medical treatment.

Be sure you are visiting the right facility if you are going to use your visitor health insurance plan to pay for the medical care. Many times people use the Emergency Room instead of Urgent Care without realizing, a visit to the emergency room that could be handled by an urgent care center may result in a claim denial if the patient was not in a life-threatening medical emergency.

It is always a good idea to call up the Urgent Care clinic to ask them about treating the medical condition.  If the urgent care can not treat your medical condition they will advice you to go to the nearest emergency room. Find the best travel medical insurance for USA that will cover for unexpected urgent or life-threatening situations: Get a Visitors Insurance quote, or send your questions to

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