The average cost of urgent care in the U.S. is about $155. The average minimum wage in the U.S. is $9.30 per hour. That means that a person earning minimum wage would have to work for 16 and a half hours to afford a single urgent care visit. Urgent care is cheaper than emergency care and usually more accessible than primary care offices. But urgent care centers are still objectively expensive and not fully accessible, especially in low-income and rural areas. Here is everything you need to know about urgent care.
Wait, what is urgent care?
Urgent care is a medical center that you visit when your symptoms are too severe to wait for your general practitioner (GP), but are not life-threatening.
A very common question is when to visit urgent care vs. when to go to the emergency room (ER). That is a fair question, because they are often the only two options for afterhours care, and both have names that suggest pressing needs. But while there are similarities, urgent and emergency care differ in the severity of symptoms they treat, the equipment they have on-site, the cost, and more.
If you have any of these symptoms, you should go to the ER:
- Heavy and uncontrollable bleeding
- Fever in a newborn and pregnancy-related concerns
- Head, neck, and back injuries
- Severe chest or abdominal pain
- Difficulties breathing
- Suicidal thoughts
Reasons to visit urgent care include:
- Cold and flu
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
- Strep throat
- Heat exhaustion
- Vomiting, dehydration, and diarrhea
- Sprains and strains
- Mild to moderate abdominal pain
According to the CDC, Americans visited the ER 130 million times in 2018. That number jumped to 150 million in the following year. Many of the most common reasons to visit the ER, including stomach pain, fever, and vomiting, can be treated by urgent care providers. Knowing your body and understanding the difference between mild and severe pain will help you make the right decision regarding the type of care you need and save you a lot of money.
Let’s lay out all the reasons to see a doctor on a spectrum. On one end, there is you feeling great and looking to refill your prescription, in which case you can wait for your GP. On the other end, there is you with an open fracture, in which case, stop reading this and go to the ER now. Urgent care is somewhere in the middle. This is a simplification, as urgent care and other types of medical providers do overlap in scope of practice, but the severity (or urgency) of care is central in understanding when to choose urgent care. If your illness or injury does not appear to be life-threatening, but should still be treated on the same day, urgent care is probably the right call for you.
The Good and The Bad of Urgent Care:
More accessible than your GP, but not accessible enough:
Some urgent care clinics are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and others close their doors as late as at 8:30 or 9pm. Urgent care centers are usually open on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, posing an alternative for when your primary care physician is unavailable.
The problems start when looking at remote and low-income areas. In 2015, there were 366 urgent care clinics in New York State. 103 of them were located in New York City. Urgent care centers tend to follow the rules of the free market and open shop in high-income and high-density areas. That means that millions of Americans can’t take advantage of urgent care, and are left with no other option but to visit the ER for after-hours treatment, even for avoidable reasons.
The Census Bureau found that people with low income visit the emergency room for preventable reasons 2.5x more often than those with higher income. Uninsured Americans were also shown to be more likely to visit the emergency room due to having no other place to go. While urgent care increases access for some, it has failed to change the reliance on an ER for many Americans who live in rural or less affluent areas.
More affordable than the ER, but not affordable enough:
While the average cost of an urgent care visit in the U.S. is about $155, a single ER visit cost surpasses $1,000. Going back to the previous point, people who live in areas in the U.S. that don’t have reliable urgent care are asked to pay outrageous amounts, which contributes to the fact that medical debt has become the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.
For those lucky enough to live in areas where urgent care is available, there is no doubt that it can be an affordable alternative to an ER visit. But at $155 for a single visit – mind you, prices vary depending on what treatment includes – it is still not an option for many underprivileged Americans. The average minimum wage in the U.S. is $9.30 per hour, meaning that a person earning minimum wage would have to work for 16 and a half hours – or two full business days – to afford a single urgent care visit.
Another contributing factor to the cost of urgent (and emergency) care is the lack of connectivity between the various healthcare providers. It is always preferred to build a relationship with a doctor who knows you and your medical history. For people who just got injured or are experiencing multiple or complex health issues, relying on that one doctor is simply not an option, and they have to find alternatives. The fact that each medical provider keeps your medical records and there is no shared system is understandable, but problematic. This issue, known as fragmentation of care, leads to over-testing, over-prescription of drugs, and makes medicine significantly more expensive. Urgent care is great for treating specific illnesses and injuries, but keep in mind that changing your usual provider – even for a single visit – will almost always cost you more.
The Future of Urgent Care:
Physical urgent care clinics make for a good – albeit not perfect – solution for when you need after-hour care. Urgent care was mainly created as a response to the growing demand for more convenient, accessible, and affordable care. But while it is definitely more convenient than squeezing in a doctor visit during work hours and more affordable than an outrageously expensive emergency care visit, it is still out of reach for many.
At Antidote Health, we believe that the solution lies in telehealth:
- Antidote Health lets you see a doctor from the comfort of your home. Visit with a physician while sitting on your couch. It doesn’t get any more convenient than that.
- Whether you seek primary or urgent care, our certified clinicians are ready and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
- Our clinicians are certified to help you with many different conditions and symptoms, from COVID-19, flu, and cold, to UTIs, stomach pain, sore throat, high blood pressure, and asthma.
- We offer truly affordable and flexible payment plans that suit your needs – from one-time visits to full family plans.
- Your medical record stays in your hands; even if you meet a doctor for the first time, your Antidote medical record will be securely stored on file and accessible to you.
- Almost 10% of Americans are uninsured, and suffer from the disparities of the current healthcare system. Antidote Health is proud to serve everyone, regardless of insurance status.
Urgent care was mainly created as a response to the growing demand for more convenient, accessible, and affordable care. And while urgent care centers play a key role in improving the American healthcare system, there are still voids to be filled. We believe that healthcare should be simpler and more inclusive. By providing affordable access to quality care through our digital platform, Antidote Health takes primary, urgent, and specialized care a big step forward toward a healthier future.