Travel Safety Tips

Should US Visitors Choose Urgent Care or the Emergency Room?

Should US Visitors Choose Urgent Care or the Emergency Room?

Traveling abroad is an exciting adventure, but unexpected health issues can quickly turn the excitement into stress. One crucial aspect of planning your trip is understanding your health coverage, particularly when it comes to urgent care and emergency room situations.

Oftentimes, people use the emergency room instead of urgent care without realizing that a visit to the emergency room that otherwise could have been handled by an urgent care center may result in a claim denial with your travel insurance provider if the patient was not experiencing a life-threatening medical emergency.

In this blog, we will break down the key differences between urgent care and emergency rooms, their associated costs, and how travel insurance factors into the equation.

Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room: What Are the Differences?

What Is Urgent Care?

Urgent care facilities provide immediate but non-emergency care for various medical issues. These include minor injuries, illnesses, or situations requiring prompt attention but not reaching the severity of an emergency. Examples include minor fractures, infections, or sudden illness symptoms.

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.

What Is an Emergency Room?

Emergency rooms (ERs) are designed to handle critical or life-threatening situations. They are equipped to handle severe injuries, trauma, chest pain, and other emergencies requiring rapid and comprehensive medical attention.

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, whereas the urgent care clinic is for less critical situations.

When to Choose Urgent Care or the Emergency Room

Urgent Care:

  • Minor Injuries or Illnesses: Opt for urgent care when facing non-life-threatening conditions like minor cuts, common infections, or mild allergic reactions.
  • Quick Attention: If you need immediate attention for a non-severe issue, urgent care is a faster option than the emergency room.
  • Lower Cost: Generally, urgent care costs less than emergency room visits.

Emergency Room:

  • Life-Threatening Conditions: Choose the ER for severe injuries, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or any situation posing an immediate threat to life.
  • Complex Health Issues: If the situation requires advanced diagnostic tests or specialized care, the ER is the right choice.
  • 24/7 Availability: Emergency rooms operate around the clock, making them suitable for critical situations at any time.

Emergency Room vs. Urgent Care 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 U.S. 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.

Urgent Care vs. Emergency Room Costs

Cost is a significant factor influencing healthcare decisions. Urgent care visits are generally more cost-effective than emergency room visits. An urgent care visit may range between $100 to $150, while an ER visit can accumulate costs into the thousands, depending on the severity of the condition and treatments provided.

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.

When selecting travel insurance, it’s vital to assess coverage for urgent care. Some travel insurance plans may even provide upfront payment for urgent care services, alleviating immediate financial burdens for visitors seeking prompt medical attention.

Does Travel Insurance Cover Hospital Bills?

It is essential to review a travel medical insurance policy’s details to understand coverage for hospital bills to ensure that you are adequately protected in case of unforeseen medical circumstances.

In the case where your visit to the ER or urgent care escalates, hospitalization costs can be a significant concern. On average, a hospital stay per day can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Having travel medical insurance can help alleviate the burden of medical costs and provide coverage in a variety of emergency instances.

Plan Type Will Affect Hospitalization Coverage

Before purchasing a policy, make sure you understand whether or not it is a limited or comprehensive plan. A limited coverage plan will only offer fixed coverage for visits to the ER or urgent care for certain medical events while comprehensive will offer more flexible, percentage-based coverage for receiving medical care.

Your doctor’s visit or hospitalization may not be covered by every plan, depending on a number of factors including the underlying reason for your visit and the plan’s benefits and exclusions. For this reason, it is important to choose a plan that offers adequate coverage for these situations that also meets your own personal needs and budget.

Making informed healthcare decisions during a visit to the USA involves understanding the nuances of urgent care and the emergency room. By considering factors such as cost, urgency, and insurance coverage, visitors can navigate the healthcare system with confidence, ensuring they receive appropriate care without unnecessary financial strain.

How VisitorsCoverage Can Help

If you still need help understanding which is the best course of action for you, especially in accordance with the insurance plan you have purchased or are trying to purchase, do not worry. VisitorsCoverage is here to help you every step of the way so you can make the best decision for your needs.

Find the best travel medical insurance for the United States that will cover for unexpected urgent situations: Get a visitors insurance quote, or connect with our award winning Customer Success Team.