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When Care Can't Wait

When to Vis­it an Imme­di­ate Care Cen­ter Instead of the Emer­gency Room

Ill­ness­es and injuries often seem to pop up when you least expect them. When med­ical care is need­ed at night or over the week­end, patients are often unsure where to go for treat­ment. The first step is to deter­mine if the med­ical issue can wait for a vis­it with the pri­ma­ry care doc­tor or if it is an acute issue requir­ing imme­di­ate atten­tion. If the prob­lem requires atten­tion out­side of your physi­cian’s clin­ic hours, and depend­ing on the symp­toms, care is avail­able at an imme­di­ate care cen­ter (ICC) or at an emer­gency room (ER) at a local hos­pi­tal. Both the time and cost can vary dras­ti­cal­ly depend­ing on where the med­ical care is pro­vid­ed, so it’s impor­tant to under­stand the dif­fer­ence between the two and the impact your choice may have on your wallet.

Your pri­ma­ry care provider is ide­al­ly the best, most cost-effec­tive place to receive care. Your provider is famil­iar with your health his­to­ry and has access to all your med­ical records, and knows you the best. Vis­its with your pri­ma­ry care physi­cian are typ­i­cal­ly the most afford­able option and usu­al­ly patients are only respon­si­ble for their co-pay­ment amount or a per­cent­age of the office vis­it depend­ing on the health insur­ance pol­i­cy. If the issue is non-emer­gent and can be man­aged with over-the-counter med­ica­tions, you may want to wait to sched­ule an appoint­ment with your doc­tor dur­ing reg­u­lar busi­ness hours. Exam­ples of con­di­tions include mild aller­gy, cold or uri­nary tract infec­tion symp­toms. Oth­er acute issues may need to be addressed soon­er includ­ing: cuts and burns, sprains and bro­ken bones, high fevers, aller­gic reac­tions or severe abdom­i­nal pain. If you are expe­ri­enc­ing an acute issue, you will need to deter­mine whether to seek med­ical care at an ICC or ER. An ICC is appro­pri­ate for treat­ment of non-emer­gency issues while treat­ment in the ER should be lim­it­ed to more emer­gent issues.

The CDC esti­mates that the num­ber of Emer­gency Room vis­its exceeds 136 mil­lion per year in the Unit­ed States. This num­ber could be dras­ti­cal­ly reduced if patients sought care at an imme­di­ate care cen­ter for non-emer­gent health issues instead. In fact, a report­ed 65% of ER vis­its are not con­sid­ered to be med­ical emer­gen­cies. In addi­tion to tying up the staff and resources need­ed to treat med­ical emer­gen­cies, non-urgent ER vis­its are respon­si­ble for gen­er­at­ing bil­lions of dol­lars in health care expens­es every year. In order to improve access to care and make after-hours care more afford­able, imme­di­ate care cen­ters were estab­lished and con­tin­ue to become more com­mon. Imme­di­ate care cen­ters were designed specif­i­cal­ly to bridge the gaps between rou­tine care PCP offices pro­vide and med­ical emer­gen­cies treat­ed at ER’s.

In gen­er­al, if a con­di­tion is non-life threat­en­ing but should be addressed that day, an ICC is appro­pri­ate. Exam­ples of non-urgent med­ical care pro­vid­ed at an ICC include:

  • Flu and cold symp­toms includ­ing: fever, con­ges­tion, coughing
  • Uri­nary tract infections
  • Abdom­i­nal pain, vom­it­ing or diarrhea
  • Minor cuts or bites
  • Sprains or bro­ken bones

DMG’s ICC’s are staffed by emer­gency med­i­cine physi­cians and offer diag­nos­tic imag­ing tests like x‑rays, lab ser­vices, and the addi­tion­al resources on-hand to treat a major­i­ty of med­ical con­di­tions. Imme­di­ate care cen­ters typ­i­cal­ly do not require an appoint­ment and treat patients on a first-come-first-serve basis.

If the issue is life-threat­en­ing or a med­ical emer­gency, a trip to the ER is nec­es­sary, as they are best equipped to han­dle these types of med­ical issues. Exam­ples of a med­ical emer­gency are:

  • Some types of chest pain
  • Severe abdom­i­nal pain (mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to talk or stand )
  • Dif­fi­cul­ty breath­ing and short­ness of breath that is not respond­ing to med­ica­tions (you can­not talk or catch your breath)
  • Paral­y­sis or unconsciousness
  • Imme­di­ate onset of speech dif­fi­cul­ty, weak­ness of a limb or paral­y­sis of a limb.

In addi­tion to under­stand­ing which facil­i­ty is appro­pri­ate for each lev­el of care required, the cost of treat­ment varies dras­ti­cal­ly between an ICC and ER. When patients are seen at an imme­di­ate care cen­ter often the only cost asso­ci­at­ed is their co-pay­ment amount or deductible, which on aver­age ranges from $50 to $150 depend­ing on their health insur­ance cov­er­age. Emer­gency rooms on the oth­er hand vary dras­ti­cal­ly depend­ing on the lev­el and type of treat­ment pro­vid­ed. A 2013 Nation­al Insti­tute of Health study esti­mat­ed the medi­an costs of an ER vis­it to range between $1,200 and $2,150.

In gen­er­al, ER vis­its cost about four times as much as an imme­di­ate care vis­it to treat the same issue. Length of the vis­it can also fluc­tu­ate between the two. On aver­age, patients will spend less than 30 min­utes from time of arrival to depar­ture at an ICC where ER vis­its aver­age 2 hours and 15 min­utes. For patients expe­ri­enc­ing seri­ous but non-crit­i­cal health issues, an imme­di­ate care clin­ic offers access to high-qual­i­ty care quick­ly and more afford­ably than an ER.

DMG Imme­di­ate Care Cen­ters offers patients a con­ve­nient alter­na­tive than the ER for con­di­tions rang­ing from sprains and bro­ken bones to aller­gies, cold or flu symp­toms, ear­aches, sore throats, pink eye, UTI’s and strep throat. DMG triage nurs­es are also avail­able to help deter­mine sever­i­ty of symp­toms and ulti­mate­ly where to seek care for a range of symp­toms includ­ing chest pain, short­ness of breath and oth­er acute issues.

For hours and loca­tions of a DMG ICC near you visit

Learn more about our Imme­di­ate Care Clinics.

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