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telemedicine vs urgent care

Choosing telemedicine versus urgent care versus the ER

October 20, 2023

Should I go to urgent care or the Emergency Room? 

Is urgent care cheaper than the ER? 

What does urgent care treat? 

What is telemedicine and when is it the best option? 

These are just a handful of common questions associated with health concerns and where to go for treatment. While the severity of one’s condition is the most important factor in choosing healthcare, other variables such as cost, convenience and whether a facility accepts insurance also play a role.

That said, educating your workforce on the differences between urgent care, the emergency room and telemedicine is extremely important. Especially now, when doctor’s offices and emergency rooms across the country are being flooded with coronavirus concerns, we all need to do our part to reduce overcrowding in hospitals and the unnecessary spread of illness.

Knowledge is power. Help your employees save money, be well and stay safe with an understanding of emergency rooms, urgent care facilities and telemedicine options.

Emergency room

  • Cost: The cost of an emergency room visit varies based on a number of factors, including whether or not you have insurance. That said, the cost can often be surprising. On average, a typical co-pay for emergency room services is $50-$100. With or without health insurance, an ER visit can cost anywhere from $150 to several thousand dollars. An ambulance ride may cost $1,000 or more.
  • Convenience: In emergency or life-threatening situations, a visit to the ER is always the best option, regardless of price or geographic location.
  • When to use: The major difference between emergency rooms and alternatives like urgent care is the severity of the health problem. If the condition is life-threatening, go to an emergency room.

Urgent care

Put simply, Urgent care is immediate care for non-life threatening illnesses and minor injuries. Urgent care centers can now be found just about everywhere, and are a convenient and inexpensive alternative to the emergency room. In fact, there are nearly 7,100 urgent care centers in the U.S. and growing.

  • Cost: An urgent care facility generally has substantially lower prices than the ER. If your deductible has been met, you will only pay for the copay at the time of your visit. The typical copay at urgent care is between $25 and $75, depending on your insurance. Generally, you will pay for the cost of the visit itself plus the cost of any additional services, tests or treatments.
  • Convenience: When you have a minor, acute medical need, urgent care is often far more convenient than going to the emergency room or even your primary doctor’s office.
  • When to use: Don’t go to urgent care for a life-threatening emergency. If the condition is a minor illness or injury, take advantage of the convenience and affordability your local urgent care has to offer. Common ailments treated at urgent care facilities may include the common cold, strep throat, sinusitis, burns, bug bites, sprains and allergic reactions.


Telemedicine uses technology and mobile devices to connect patients with real-time consultations from the comfort of their own homes, and is quickly becoming a top choice for people who have non-emergency health issues. As an affordable and efficient alternative for accessing healthcare, telemedicine is also becoming more attractive to employers and health plans.

  • Cost: Telemedicine visits generate cost savings mainly by diverting patients away from more costly care settings such as emergency rooms. Since telemedicine visits require fewer resources, patients can expect to pay less than they would for an in-office visit.
  • Convenience: Telehealth allows patients to access healthcare from just about anywhere — making it a convenient option when traveling, avoiding the spread or contracting of illness, living in a remote area, or can’t get into your normal physician. Adding virtual care to your organization’s benefits package offers employees simple, on-demand care without the cost and time of in-person visits.
  • When to use: Telemedicine is most beneficial for non-urgent ailments and health concerns or when you cannot make it to a physical location (i.e. when traveling, at work, after hours, etc). Medical conditions that may be diagnosed via telehealth include allergies, rashes, colds and flus, sore throats, bladder infections, and small wounds and cuts.

Next steps

One in five Americans visit the emergency room at least once every year, with up to half of those visits being for non-urgent matters. What’s more, unnecessary use of emergency rooms could cost the healthcare system billions of dollars a year, not to mention contribute to the rising cost of healthcare for both employees and employers.

Urgent care vs ER for non-urgent matters

To limit spending on emergency room bills, employers must take the time to enlighten employees about alternatives for non-urgent care. Now that we’ve established the differences between emergency rooms, urgent care facilities and telemedicine, it’s time to start incorporating these options into your organization’s employee benefits communication strategy.

Consider adding a section to your website or create a custom microsite that shows a map of the nearest healthcare facilities, including contact information for each. For remote employees, offer resources such as or other clinic locators.

The information in this blog post is for educational purposes only. It is not legal or tax advice. For legal or tax advice, you should consult your own counsel.

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