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Evaluating Urgent Care Cost for Breaks, Sprains and Strains

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg | Jan 18, 2021

Members who wonder just how much an urgent care cost will lighten their wallet may be surprised to find that, whatever the price, it's often less expensive than a trip to the emergency room.

Yet when members experience traumatic injuries like breaks, sprains or strains, they often head to the emergency room — in the panic, that might seem like the best (or only) option. Going to urgent care, which acts like a hybrid of a doctor's office and an ER, may not even cross their mind.

Helping members understand their options gives them the tools to make more conscious health decisions at a moment's notice.

Understanding the Benefits of Urgent Care

Urgent care centers are typically free-standing facilities run by a single physician with a support staff that might include a nurse, a technician and an administrator.

What does urgent care cost, generally? A recent report found that the average cost of addressing common conditions that could be treatable by a primary care physician in an emergency room is $2,032 — more than 10 times higher than going to an urgent care center ($193). Urgent care centers are also smaller and less expensive to run than a large hospital, which can keep patients' costs down.


Many urgent care centers have X-rays and other diagnostic equipment and offer simple, on-site lab tests such as urinary tract infection testing. Urgent care providers can also prescribe medications. Not only is urgent care more cost effective, but it can also be more efficient. Often, wait times at urgent care centers are much shorter than at the ER. Many urgent care centers are open at night, seven days a week and even on holidays.

Urgent care center physicians can evaluate and treat a whole host of issues, including:

  • Simple bone breaks
  • Muscle tears
  • Fevers and colds
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Minor cuts

Creating a Focused Communication Strategy

To help members save money and time while still receiving high-quality health care, consider developing a communication strategy that targets normalizing urgent care use and encourages your members to choose it instead of the ER when appropriate.

First, compile a list of all nearby urgent care centers and distribute the list to your members so they have it on hand the next time they experience a health issue. You might also invite a physician from a local urgent care center to talk to members, either in person or virtually, about what types of conditions they treat at the center and what it's like to visit the clinic.

You can also reinforce this information in members' everyday lives — mention the benefits of urgent care during a union meeting, in your newsletter or even in messages you distribute to members surrounding open enrollment.

When to Go to the ER

Still, members should know that there are certain health situations for which it's always better to visit the ER. An emergency room will make sure that members with life-threatening injuries or conditions get immediate care.

Some reasons members might choose the ER include:

  • Choking
  • Seizures
  • Neck injury
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe burns or cuts
  • Bleeding that won't stop
  • Serious broken bones in areas like the skull or ribs
  • A severe allergic reaction
  • Chest pain or any other signs of a heart attack or stroke

For immediate care, many members may get the best treatment, quickest care and lowest health costs by choosing urgent care. Your members will appreciate learning more about how this option could end up saving them both time and a significant amount of money.

With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday—Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.