Do you need Urgent Care or Emergency Care? What's the Difference?

Huntsville, AL (January 18, 2020) – With significantly high flu activity this year, wait times at the Emergency Room (ER) are skyrocketing. Patients should take note: If the situation is not life-threatening, there is a cost-effective alternative to the ER with walk-in urgent care. The intent of an urgent, walk-in center is to treat patients quickly, affordably and in convenient locations.

The distinguishing factors of urgent care are that medical care is delivered on a walk-in basis, with no appointment needed, and a referral from a physician is not required. Most centers are open 7 days a week with evening and weekend hours, making it easy for families.

“Urgent care centers offer peace of mind for patients as they have access to quality medical care when their doctor’s office may not be open,” said Marcia C. Mierez, D.O., Huntsville Hospital Urgent Care – Madison.

“It’s so important when you’re ill, injured or hurt and in need of medical attention, to know whether to head to the ER, your primary care provider, or an urgent care center,” further noted Mierez. “It can often make a difference in immediate relief, cost, and possibly a health outcome.”

Emergency Room (ER) Care

If a patient shows symptoms of a life-threatening condition such as chest pain with difficulty breathing, stroke, or is unconscious or unresponsive, call 9-1-1 and let an ambulance take him or her to the emergency room. Ambulance staff can begin treating a patient in the ambulance.

Additional common reasons to go to an ER include acute or serious conditions such as: heart attack; severe abdominal pain; loss of balance; severe wheezing or shortness of breath; paralysis; seizure; head injury; intestinal bleeding; vaginal bleeding with pregnancy; serious burns; major broken bones; major injury or trauma; uncontrolled vomiting; poisoning; severe head or eye injuries; altered mental status and confusion; as well as other traumatic illness and injuries.

Urgent Care

When health issues unexpectedly occur that need immediate attention, but aren’t life-or limb-threatening, many people should consider urgent care. Convenient walk-in urgent care has become a bridge between the patient’s primary care doctor’s office and the hospital emergency room.

“The rule of thumb is if the condition is not life-or limb-threatening, but treatment is needed today, an urgent care center can treat the acute condition or illness,” says Mierez.

Acute ailments or injuries include: fevers, flu or cold symptoms; ear infections; animal or insect bites; seasonal allergies; bronchitis and respiratory illness; eye and ear conditions; sinusitis; urinary tract infections; sprains and broken bones; cuts and bleeding that may require stitches; vomiting and diarrhea; abdominal pain; minor back pain; and other common illnesses and injuries. Most centers also offer onsite imaging and diagnostic lab tests, school and sports physicals, and immunizations.

The availability of urgent care can also free up Emergency Rooms from cases that are not life-or limb-threatening so staff can focus on patients who truly need immediate, life-saving care.

Cost of Care and Wait Times

For non- life-or limb-threatening health needs, urgent care centers can offer a more cost-effective alternative. ERs are equipped to treat life-or limb-threatening circumstances, but the high cost of using a facility designed for that level of medical care will more than likely be reflected in the bill. ER costs vary based on treatment, but a 2017 National Institute of Health study put the average cost at $1,389. According to the Urgent Care Association of America (UCAOA), the average cost of an urgent care visit is $150.

According to the 2018 UCAOA Benchmarking Study Survey, at an urgent care, 94% of patients wait 30 minutes or less to see a provider. Patients with life-threatening injuries go first in an ER and average time from arrival to departure is 2 hours, 15 minutes.

“Urgent care centers should not be considered a replacement for ongoing chronic care, nor a substitute for emergency care, which is the best option for emergency situations,” Mierez emphasized.


Huntsville Hospital Urgent Care has five locations in North Alabama (Huntsville, Decatur, Madison, Florence and Muscle Shoals), and is an affiliate of Urgent Team, one of the largest independent operators of urgent and family care centers in the Southeast. The Urgent Team Family of Centers provides quality and affordable family healthcare at 59 locations under six brands: Huntsville Hospital Urgent Care; Urgent Team (throughout Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee); Physicians Care (throughout Tennessee and Georgia); Washington Regional Urgent Care; Baptist Health Urgent Care and Sherwood Urgent Care (throughout Arkansas). Huntsville Hospital Urgent Care’s convenient, walk-in centers provide a range of health care services including treatments for injuries and illnesses, occupational health and wellness care. Most centers offer 24/7 online scheduling with Hold My Spot™.  Urgent Team’s company headquarters are located in Nashville, Tenn. For more information, visit or



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