Urgent care vs. ER

Get the care you need now — for less

When you need care fast, the emergency room (ER) may seem like your only option. But for many situations, urgent care clinics may treat the same conditions — at up to $2,000 less than the ER.1

Need urgent care during COVID-19?

While COVID-19 may be top of mind right now, other illnesses and injuries may still be bound to happen. It's still important to get care when you need it. 

Remember, urgent care is an available option if you need care for non-COVID-19-related concerns. Call the urgent care center first to ask about treatment options and hours of operation to help assure you'll get the care you need. 

If you're concerned that you may have been exposed to COVID-19 or if you're having symptoms, you can assess your risk for COVID-19 and get treatment options to discuss with your doctor using our symptom checker.

Compare how urgent care may deliver treatment for less money

Depending on your health insurance coverage, the choices you make about where to go for care for minor injuries or illnesses can help you save money and time. Let's compare urgent care to ER. 

Urgent care

For immediate treatment for non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses. 

Cost: $180 per average visit1

Hours: 60-80 hours per week

Wait time: 30 minutes or less than average2

Care providers: Physicians and care teams

Urgent care clinics offer treatment for non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses, like sprains and minor burns. They're staffed by physicians and care teams. If you are advised to follow up with your primary care provider, please do so within the recommended time frame.

Urgent care clinics often require a copayment and/or coinsurance that's usually higher than an office visit. Walk-in patients are welcome, but waiting periods may be longer as patients with more urgent needs may be treated first.

Emergency room

For immediate treatment of life-threatening injuries or illnesses and other critical conditions.

Cost: $2,200 per average visit1

Hours: 24/7

Wait time: 2 hours on average2

Care providers: Physicians and care teams

Do not ignore an emergency. Take action if a situation seems life-threatening. Head to your nearest emergency room or call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number right away. If you are advised to follow up with your primary care provider, please do so within the recommended time frame.

Emergency room visits often require a much higher copayment and/or coinsurance than an office visit or urgent care visit. Emergency rooms are always open, but waiting periods may be longer because patients with life-threatening emergencies may be treated first.

Is urgent care right for me?

Urgent care clinics can treat a wide variety of symptoms, including:

  • Low back pain
  • Painful urination
  • Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation
  • Minor cuts and puncture wounds (head, hands, fingers)
  • Headache and migraines
  • Skin rash
  • Muscle pain or strain in the low back, knee, ankle, foot, wrist, shoulder or neck
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Nose bleeds

For minor health care needs, see a doctor online now

If your condition isn't urgent, you can connect with a doctor anytime day or night.


  1. Information about treatment costs are estimates and reflect the average costs of guidance and care delivered through UnitedHealthcare owned and contracted service providers to members of UnitedHealthcare health plans. Costs for specific guidance and treatments may be higher or lower than the costs represented here. Emergency room cost estimates include facility charge and initial physician consultation.

    Source 2019: Average allowed amounts charged by UnitedHealthcare Network Providers and not tied to a specific condition or treatment. Actual payments may vary depending upon benefit coverage. (Estimated $2,000.00 difference between the average emergency room visit and the average urgent care visit.) The information and estimates provided are for general informational and illustrative purposes only and is not intended to be nor should be construed as medical advice or a substitute for your doctor’s care. You should consult with an appropriate health care professional to determine what may be right for you. In an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

  2. National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey 2010-2011. Available at QuickStats: Median Emergency Department (ED) Wait and Treatment Times,* by Triage Level. ^UCAOA 2015 Benchmarking Survey. The full survey which addresses other industry topics including differences in urgent care centers by region, characteristics of urgent care centers based on types of ownership and various revenue correlations, is available for purchase by both members and non-members – including media – on the UCA website.


24/7 Virtual Visits phone and video chat with a doctor are not an insurance product, health care provider or a health plan. Unless otherwise required, benefits are available only when services are delivered through a Designated Virtual Network Provider. 24/7 Virtual Visits are not intended to address emergency or life-threatening medical conditions and should not be used in those circumstances. Services may not be available at all times, or in all locations, or for all members. Check your benefit plan to determine if these services are available.

Check your official health plan documents to see what services and providers are covered by your health plan. Suggested care options are not medical advice. If you believe you are having an emergency, go to the nearest urgent care services, emergency room or call 911.

Insurance coverage provided by or through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or its affiliates. Administrative services provided by United HealthCare Services, Inc. or their affiliates.