Emergency Room or Walk-In Clinic?

Given the cost of healthcare, it is important to understand the differences – and similarities – between an urgent care and an emergency room and what they can offer. Nearly 50 percent of the diagnoses at emergency rooms can be treated by urgent care centers at a fraction of the cost and wait time. In many instances, they are more convenient as well.


Most Emergency Rooms are open 24 hours a day and specialize in life-threatening conditions and injuries that require more advanced technology and highly trained medical personnel and surgeons to diagnose and treat. Essentially, they are equipped to handle anything that walks through their doors.  Wait times tend to be several hours and the average cost is many times higher than a retail clinic or urgent care.


Convenient care clinics also known as Retail clinics are a category of walk-in clinic located in retail stores, supermarkets and pharmacies that treat uncomplicated minor illnesses and provide preventative health care services.  The most common services at retail clinics are assisting with minor injuries and illnesses like treatment of pink eye, flu and cold symptoms, strep throat, upset stomachs, and minor cuts and skin conditions. Other common services include immunizations, annual physicals and health screenings. Some retail clinics are now expanding services to include chronic disease management. They all prescribe medications and most have adjacent pharmacies for pick-up convenience.


Retail clinic hours operations vary, of course, but many are open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm.  Others coincide more directly with retail store hours. The emphasis here is on convenience, and care is offered on a first-come/first-served basis. They do not take appointments. It is best to call ahead or check online for accurate patient hours and expected wait times.


Urgent care is a category of walk-in clinic focused on the delivery of ambulatory care in a dedicated medical facility outside of a traditional emergency room. Urgent care centers primarily treat injuries or illnesses requiring immediate care, but not serious enough to require an ER visit. Urgent care clinics are like walk-in clinics with enhanced capabilities. Most urgent care locations have at least one medical doctor on staff, and are designed to take some of the burden off more expensive hospital emergency care services. Extended hours and weekend services are usually available. Urgent care clinics can provide x-rays, administer IVs and treat minor and moderately severe trauma for non-life-threatening conditions such as broken bones, deep lacerations and burns.  Urgent care is highly recommended to supplement primary care, particularly given their extended office hours, usually 8:00 am to 8:00 pm seven days a week.