The Difference Between the ER and Urgent Care

Long ago, before there were smartphones (yep, such a time existed), there was only one place to go for medical care if your doctor’s office was closed – the hospital emergency room (ER). Fortunately, that’s no longer the case.

Now you have your pick of places for after-hours care including urgent care clinics, online doctor visits, on-demand home visits, free-standing emergency rooms and the good old-fashioned hospital emergency room. So, what’s the difference and why is it important?

Standard Emergency Room or Free-Standing ER

Serious or life-threatening injuries or illnesses that require immediate attention or a specific level of care are emergencies. Sore throats or extreme paper cuts are not.

If it’s a life-threatening emergency, then head to the closest emergency room STAT (Friday covers you at any ER in a true emergency). This will be the most costly option, but if your life is in danger, you must get care immediately.

Here are a few of the symptoms that are best evaluated in an emergency room:

  • Persistent chest pain, especially if it radiates to your arm or jaw or is accompanied by sweating, vomiting or shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Any severe pain, particularly in the abdomen or starting halfway down the back
  • Sudden clumsiness, loss of balance or fainting
  • Sudden difficulty speaking, or trouble understanding speech
  • Sudden weakness or paralysis, especially on one side of the face or body
  • Severe heart palpitations
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Broken bones or dislocated joints
  • Deep cuts that require stitches — especially on the face — or a large open wound that won’t stop bleeding
  • Head or eye injuries
  • Severe flu or cold symptoms
  • High fevers or fevers with rash
  • Severe and persistent vomiting or diarrhea
  • Serious burns

The cost of ER tests, scans, and other healthcare services can be MUCH higher than they would be at other medical providers, because they are there to save lives. The average cost of an emergency room visit is $1,389.

So, if you or your loved one isn’t having a life-threatening emergency, here are your other options:

Urgent Care Clinic

What is it: A low-cost option for after-hours care of minor illnesses and injuries

Best for: Common sprains, shallow cuts, rashes, sore throat, colds, urinary tract infection

Cost: $75-$80 fee* (called a “co-pay”), your deductible is waived (you just pay the $75 or $80 even if you haven’t hit your deductible).

* On Silver, Gold and some Bronze Plans.

How to find one: Check out the Friday network near you to find an in-network urgent care center near you


What is it: A $0 telehealth service that allows you to speak with a doctor by phone, web, or mobile app in under 10 minutes.

Best for: A wide-range of non-emergency illnesses, like sinus problems, respiratory infection, allergies, urinary tract infection, the cold, and flu symptoms

Cost: $0 with any Friday health plan.

How to use Teladoc: You can access Teladoc two ways:

  1. Through your Member Portal. Simply log into your account and click on the Teladoc link.
  2. Visit Teladoc directly at this link and create an account.

It’s a great idea to set up your account now, even if you don’t need it today, so it’s ready to go when you need the service.

Buyer beware of free-standing emergency rooms

You may have seen these individual buildings in your neighborhood with a local hospital name. They look like clinics, but they are actually emergency rooms that charge emergency room prices. If you’re not careful, a visit to a free-standing ER for your kid’s ear infection could cost you thousands of dollars (compared to a $75 or $80 urgent care visit or a $0 Teladoc call).

Bottom line: do not visit a free-standing emergency room if you have a condition that can be treated at an urgent care center or primary care office.

As always, if you have any questions about your plan, benefits, or service, contact the Friday Care CrewWe’re here to help!


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